Last week we took a first look at the Microsoft Expert Educator YouTube channel, introducing some members of the MIEE community, as well as a number of head teachers from a Microsoft Showcase Schools here in the UK. Today we’re going to hear about one Expert Educator in particular, and what his views are on the place of technology within education. Further down in this guest post, written by Gerald Haigh, you can watch a short video of Mark from our MEE TV channel.
Mark Martin - Freedom to roam
by Gerald Haigh
Many teachers have long tried to involve their students more actively in their learning – working together to solve problems, learning from their own and each other’s mistakes. In order to do this they have increasingly wanted to move away from the ‘sage on the stage’ position at the front of the room and move around, still undoubtedly in charge, setting the learning and organizational parameters, but at the same time signalling that their class is a collaborative learning community. It’s not always been easy to do that consistently. Time and again the teacher who works in that way finds it necessary to hurry to the front to demonstrate something to everyone, or show an example of work. Now, though, we’ve seen how teachers are making use of the portability and connectivity of Windows tablets to free themselves completely to work, and control the lesson, from wherever they wish to be, alongside their students.
A conversation with MIEE teacher Mark Martin provides a first class example of exactly how this can work.
Anyone who believes that Microsoft’s Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE) programme, or the global Showcase Schools project, are exclusively focussed on the wonders of technology would do well to talk to some of the people involved. In every case, it’s clear that the driving imperative is about the furtherance and enrichment of learning and the expansion of opportunities for young people. Yes, technology’s important, but only because it brings to life ideas and visions around learning that might otherwise be out of reach.
Mark Martin, for example, teacher of ICT at St Mark’s Church of England Academy in Mitcham, Surrey caught my attention when I noticed a comment he’d posted on the MIEE Yammer feed about using Surface Pro 3 with a Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter that enables whatever’s happening on the tablet to be projected for all to see. He’s keen on this, not just as a demonstration tool but, in his own words, ‘To remove the ideology of the teacher at the front.’
I called Mark to chat further about his ideas.
‘Traditionally, the teacher talks from the front… As time’s gone on, though, I’ve seen the focus move from the person at the front to the learning.’
Not all technology follows that shift of focus, though. So while a technologically clever management tool such as ‘AB Tutor’, has the obvious advantage of giving teacher access to all the desktops in the room, for Mark, it also meant being restricted to the teacher’s desktop machine, in the place where he didn’t want to be, at the front of the class.
Mark wanted to be mobile, among and alongside the students, in the places where the learning is happening. Now with AB Tutor on his Surface Pro 3, Mark has discovered the kind of freedom and flexibility he’s always wanted, to walk round the room, attending to students with problems. .
‘When a young person gets stuck, they depend on the teacher to give some kind of immediate response. I could go and show them the right way, and there’s always a place for that, but what I try and do before that is ask the students alongside. I can show on the screen different examples from around the room of what people have done, and try to establish that it’s not just about finding answers from the teacher.’
Mark’s very keen on the notion of ‘being stuck’ not as a barrier, but as a learning point, to be worked through to the advantage of everyone in the room.
The Surface Pro 3 is crucial in this process. Mark carries it round the room, ‘picking up’ work from students, showing it, comparing it with others, annotating it, building a collaborative learning environment. Sometimes, he says,
‘I just hand over the Surface and the pen to someone who will get on with showing the class what they want to explain.’
On the basis of a short phone call – and a look at his excellent website – I was hugely impressed by Mark’s combination of worldly wisdom, open mindedness and enthusiastic sense of mission.
He’s been at the school for two years, having had experience in a range of urban schools, originally as a learning mentor before becoming a teacher seven years ago. In his relatively short time at St Marks he’s worked hard to raise the profile of ICT, and the achievement of students. Right at the start he instituted a digital leaders programme with the students, and there’s a termly award – a cup competition – for the department using technology most effectively.
Very significant in all of this is Mark’s close engagement with the technology industry – his connection with Microsoft is just one aspect of that. He makes links with ‘Tech City’, the East London cluster of technology start-ups and businesses and brings experts in every Thursday to showcase their latest work.
Bringing parents on board is part of the mission, too –
‘We do a one hour a week after-school session called ‘digital families’.’
Now, he says:
‘More students are choosing ICT and Computing at KS4, more are wanting to study the subject at college and university, and looking to do it as a career. The main impact, though, is on digital confidence. They are more ready to take risks and test out the technology in new ways.’
One of Mark’s greatest strengths, I’d guess, is his understanding of, and empathy with, young people. Starting as a learning mentor undoubtedly helped, because it’s a role that creates a different sort of relationship than that between teacher and pupil. It means, for example, that he detects a huge amount of hidden technological talent among young people, comparing its ‘under the radar’ growth with the way that the Hip-Hop scene developed and spread in the USA in the Seventies.
‘As the underground Hip-Hop scene thrives with new talent coming through, so does the tech scene amongst young people,’ he writes in his blog , ‘Hidden Talent in Schools’.
Mark is also keen on teachers sharing their ideas, and his participation in MIEE activities is certain to be productive for him and for the wider community.
Mark Martin on Twitter @Urban_teacher