The results of David Cantler’s work can be seen in some big, beautiful projects created by students. But they can also be seen in the way students, staff and faculty at his schools use technology to better meet their goals. As a Technology Integration Specialist for the Jackson and Bridge Street elementary schools in Northampton, Cantler divides his time between doing direct instruction with classes and working to build capacity with students and teachers. This might mean working with students to gain independence on a certain technology or it might mean answering teacher questions or showing them how to use a tool that helps them meet their goals. He does so with a unique blend of creativity, calm and curiosity.
“One of the things I love about my job is getting to work with kindergarteners through adults and seeing that broad view of two schools,” Cantler says.
Unsurprisingly, he says, the biggest challenge he faces is time. He says the students are always open to learning something new if it’s engaging. But teachers have to focus their learning on immediate needs.
“In my ideal world there would be more protected time that is open for learning,” Cantler says. “There would be more of that open space in which adults could be more expansive and could learn things that might not be immediately useful tomorrow, but might be useful next month.”
His advice for others in a similar role: do a lot of listening. He says it’s important to understand which principals prefer a top-down approach and which prefer to build consensus before making a change. It’s also important to understand which teachers will be the early adopters and which prefer to try something once their colleagues have tried it first.
“I think it’s really valuable to step back and listen,” Cantler says. “Listen to teachers and pay attention to how change happens in your school.”
Cantler is committed to improving communication in education. He brings innovative thinking and a patient demeanor to every challenge, including the recent district rollout of the communication tool ParentSquare. Cantler played a big role assigning tasks and deciding which features to roll out first. “I am very proud of the district rollout of ParentSquare,” he says. “It was a really unified launch and adoption.”
One of Cantler’s favorite digital learning tools to use with students is Scratch. He says this dynamic tool can make a class of first graders wild with excitement when they discover they can delete the head from a character. But the programming concepts and digital art tools are also useful in a class of fifth graders.
Cantler does more intensive projects with the older grades, including one that uses Piper Computer Kits. Third graders work in pairs to build the housing for a computer, and then connect a monitor, battery and mouse to a Raspberry Pi. They play an educational version of Minecraft to learn about basic inputs and outputs and build a video controller. This project has complex blueprints and requires students to follow directions carefully in order to get the computer to work. Cantler pairs this project with persistence lessons from Classroom Dojo.
“This is a project where the pieces really only fit one way and they have to go precisely right. When things get hard, that’s where deep learning comes in,” Cantler says. “It’s a project that ties together a lot of concepts and learning. There’s this excitement at getting to play Minecraft at the end, paired with working with a partner, computer science concepts and how to be persistent when things get hard.”
Cantler reminds his students and his teachers that he knows what it feels like when something isn’t working right. When this happens for him, he turns to the team of technology integrators in Northampton Public Schools, as well as the Collaborative for Educational Services as a great support.
“It’s easy to feel totally alone in a building,” Cantler says. “When I have questions, I have these built-in professional learning networks to turn to. Having resources when you have questions is really valuable.”
David Cantler is a Technology Integration Specialist in the Northampton Public Schools at Jackson and Bridge Street Schools. This is his seventh year in the position. In previous lives, he’s taught everything from Pre-K to middle school Social Studies. He has also been a farmer, garden educator, and adventure recess coordinator. David is now a happy resident of the Pioneer Valley and lives with his wife and two awesome kids.
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