Teaching for Tomorrow: Mark Martin Puts Creative Problem Solving Front-and-Center

Mark Martin bridges the awareness gap in his London school.

Teaching for Tomorrow: Mark Martin Puts Creative Problem Solving Front-and-Center
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Mark Martin had been teaching his students about cybersecurity, and wanted to make sure the lesson really resonated. His solution? Contact Al Jazeera TV and see if he could secure an amazing guest presenter. “I just reached out to them on LinkedIn,” he explained to Schools Week, “like ‘Hey guys, I love what you lot are doing. Come in and speak to my young people.’”

It’s an approach Mark — who’s known to many as @UrbanTeacher — has used in his work as a computer science teacher at the South Bank University Technical College in London, where he’s renowned for his innovative, hands-on teaching style.

“There’s a lot of things happening in and around the world — even things in our home city,” Mark says. “But we’re not connected enough because everyone’s in their own different world trying to make things happen. There’s a massive awareness gap.”

Teachers and students need to venture out

As teachers, Mark and his colleagues have the unique opportunity to disrupt the status quo. “Being a teacher means being able to venture out, see what’s happening, and look at different practices,” he says. “I’ve been able to get a unique insight into how we develop more young people within my school, and help them understand these opportunities.”

It’s an approach that doesn’t stop with the students, either. Mark is an inspiration to his peers and colleagues at South Bank and beyond. Osi Ejiofor, assistant head teacher at Southwood Primary School and founder of Osi’s Tech Tips, has long noted Mark’s unique approach and skill set.

“Mark is an outstanding classroom practitioner,” Osi says. “His approach not only engages students but helps prepare them for the workplace. He helps students understand the value of education and has shown by example what bettering and developing yourself can do for your career.”

While Mark understands the crucial roles technology, collaboration, and creative problem-solving skills play in the classroom, he also recognizes it’s a delicate balance.

“Tech is great, tech is powerful,” he says. “But you can’t depend on one technology when it comes to teaching and learning.” By consistently staying connected with the educational technology industry and bringing big name companies and power players into his classroom, Mark has helped his students raise their expectations for their futures, while empowering them with the skills to achieve their goals. “It’s about how we’re using technology to enhance lessons, rather than as a holy grail.”

Don’t forget the human touch

Originally, Mark studied IT networking. However, as a teaching assistant, Mark was frequently praised for his technical approach to instruction. Eventually, he reconsidered his career path and went on to pursue a master’s degree in education.

Soon after graduating, Mark was put in charge of the virtual learning environment (VLE) at Phoenix High School in northwest London. Here he attacked his work with passion, though the response to his nontraditional methods was less than ideal. However, rather than abandon the new assignment, Mark tapped into his creative problem-solving skills and changed course.

“I learned very quickly that, to get young people onto the VLE, I had to make it entertaining for them,” he says. “So I put a lot of the games they used to play in class on there. That was the carrot to get them into understanding the system.” From there, he continued to look for new ways to engage his classes, going so far as to put videos of himself teaching on the VLE, for both students who needed a refresher and students who missed the lesson.

Mark’s experience at Phoenix was a game changer. “We’ve done practical mobile development,” he says. “We’ve done some coding, and we’ve done design work. It’s all about creativity.” And, to create that content, he explains that “we’re using technology as a tool to enhance the content development experience. Adobe Creative Cloud tools, such as Adobe Spark, have enabled my students to create content in a short space of time.”

Working together isn’t cheating

Mark is also deeply focused on helping students become effective collaborators and communicators. “There’s a common belief that, at some point, every individual must solve their own problems — that asking others is cheating,” Osi says. “Mark disagrees. He constantly says collaboration is the key, and I agree wholeheartedly.”

Mark himself practices this same collaboration in and out of the classroom. He’s consistently active on the Adobe Education Exchange and Twitter. Through these platforms he’s shared his unique pedagogy and the steps he’s taken to create unique in-class experiences, curriculum, and more.

“I want other teachers to see that the four walls of their school are not the be-all and end-all,” Mark says of his own content sharing. “You can either swim in the fishbowl or you can swim in the ocean.” Diving into that deep end, he notes, tends to produce the best results. “In the ocean you might find sharks, you might find piranhas, you might find anything. But in a fishbowl you’re only going to see the same familiar things in cycle.”

Recently, his “teaching routine” tweet went viral and evolved into its own initiative, My Teaching Routine. The six-step system — connect, demonstrate, activate, facilitate, collaborate, and consolidate — takes teachers and learners through different stages of a lesson. The step-by-step guide helps teachers set up activities or scenarios for increased learning potential.

Mark Martin’s six-step Teaching Routine. Image: Mark Martin/ @Urban_Teacher.

Have confidence to try something new

Ultimately, for Mark, true success in the classroom means watching students and teachers succeed. “I like changing lives and providing students with the best opportunities,” he says.

That said, the path Mark has carved out isn’t always the smoothest. But he always pushes forward, knowing he’s changing the education game — and his students’ lives — for good.

“It’s about having the confidence to try something new,” Mark says, “even if you get it wrong. Being a great teacher is becoming a lifelong learner and being able to see failures and shortcomings as a stepping-stone to become a better practitioner.”

See what the Adobe Education Exchange community has to offer. Do you know an educator who deserves the spotlight? Tweet us @AdobeEdu to nominate an educator for well-deserved recognition and they may be the subject of an upcoming Teaching for Tomorrow profile!

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