About the Kinkaid School
Founded in 1906, the Kinkaid School is the oldest independent coeducational school in Houston that has three divisions: Upper School, Middle School, and Lower School. It serves approximately 1,400 students across all three schools.
The Kinkaid School was looking for a learning management system (LMS) that was easy for everyone to use. It had changed systems three times in five years as it tried to find the right solution, each falling short for different reasons. The school had been using a student information system (SIS), which it is still using, that also had an LMS, but the LMS did not offer the opportunity for students and teachers to easily collaborate. The school also tried a couple of other systems but ran into problems with lost data and an inability to host discussions, among other issues.
A new Director of Technology, Vinnie Vrotny, joined the team and suggested PowerSchool Learning, which he used successfully at two other schools. He recommended PowerSchool Learning for several reasons: 1) the ability to leverage teachers’ and students’ use of Google Apps with PowerSchool Learning’s deep Google integration; 2) the existing API integration between PowerSchool Learning and Kinkaid’s SIS; and 3) the need to build a blended/virtual learning environment to support a 1:1 or BYOD program in the future.
“In terms of the blended learning environments being offered at universities, we were in some sense doing our students a disservice by not providing that rich, collaborative experience while they were in our school before they moved on,” said Vrotny. “We wanted to provide opportunities that help students explore and understand how that environment works. It’s really important to our students because all of our students are college bound.”
In addition to the reasons noted earlier, he thought PowerSchool Learning would also be a good fit because it was developed specifically for K-12 teachers and students.
“Some of the other LMSs were developed for higher ed first and then brought into the K-12 market, so they’re not as intuitive and elegant for K-12 as PowerSchool Learning,” said Vrotny.
He noted that most teachers at Kinkaid had never used an LMS before, and he was well aware of the “soft costs” that people don’t always think of— the investment in time, energy, and resources for training—that can hinder the progress of a new initiative if the technology isn’t intuitive.
When others from The Kinkaid School saw PowerSchool Learning, they were immediately impressed with its simple interface and robust tools, which is exactly what Kinkaid needed to appeal to everyone while still offering the ability to grow.
“Based on what we had been using, it was just a thousand times better,” said Jeff Diedrich, Innovation Coordinator in the Middle School. “It’s just so
much more visually pleasing. And in terms of how easy it is, too, it’s just very user friendly. You get the sense that a teacher actually developed it. The teachers feel like it’s designed for teachers, which is really cool.”
“One of the teachers in our pilot was trained to create a page for her class in only thirty minutes,” said Vrotny. “She learned how to incorporate video and discussions to provide an opportunity to discuss sensitive topics within her Healthy Decisions class.”
The Kinkaid School decided to make the first full year of the rollout optional and the response to the opt-in initiative has been overwhelmingly positive, with word of mouth helping to drive adoption.
“Some teachers hear that there’s another new LMS and they say ‘Oh no, they’re going to make us change again!’” said Harlan Howe, Technology Integration Coordinator in the Upper School. “But teachers who tested it already told them ‘Yes, but this is actually easier to use. You’re going to really like this change.’”
The Middle School is enjoying the same positive response with nearly everyone participating in the opt-in initiative.
“We could have had just five people doing it, but we now have 85 percent of Middle School faculty actually using it,” said Diedrich. “I think that speaks to the appeal of it. So many teachers were like ‘Wow, I like this. It’s so much better than [the other LMS]. I definitely want to use this and try it.’”
Howe notes that teachers in the Upper School have their own preferences on how to set up their classes, so they especially enjoy the flexibility that the platform affords.
“There are several different perspectives on how people want to set up their class,” said Howe. “Some are breaking up their classes by units, some by days, some by chapters of the book, and some by categories like handouts and homework assignments. It’s nice that we have the flexibility to think in those terms.”
He says the simple drag-and-drop interface helps to drive usage because teachers feel like it’s easy to experiment as they’re learning the platform.
“They can explore without worrying that they’re going to break things. It’s a safe place for teachers to work on things,” said Howe.
A number of teachers are taking advantage of Discussions—something they couldn’t do before. And they’re all using it differently, whether it’s for class- wide discussions, small groups, or 1:1.
“I know an English teacher who is fond of the class-wide discussions,” said Howe. “She tends to put up a quote that’s compelling and then students have to find their own [quote], explain why, and respond to a certain amount of others. It leads to some interesting conversations. Others are more interested in the 1:1 discussions.”
And overall, teachers are enjoying that they can embed other apps right into their class, so they use additional favorite tools without leaving the PowerSchool Learning portal.
“There are lots of different web apps that can be embedded right inside,” said Diedrich. “Quizlet and YouTube are the most popular so far with teachers.”
It’s not always just about the new things they can do, such as Discussions, but it’s also about the time saved doing “old” things like grading and returning work. A combination of using Rubrics to grade and the Dropbox to turn in work has streamlined the grading process for many teachers.
“Just being able to grade papers inside of the LMS is nice,” said Diedrich. “When you go in and you’re able to look at a student’s work, you can add comments right in there and hand it back without ever having to touch a piece of paper. It’s really nice. I can also download an entire class’s worth of stuff in one click, which is great.”
The seamless, single sign-on integration between Google Apps for Education and PowerSchool Learning has also become a popular way for teachers to be more productive using documents they’ve already created in Google Drive.
“Just being able to insert a Google Doc [in PowerSchool Learning] quickly, straight from Google Drive, has been helpful,” said Howe.
It’s also helped streamline the co-teaching process, such as in an art survey class co-taught by four different art teachers. They each have different areas of specialization, such as ceramics, film, and photography.
“They really liked being able to build a class together with multiple sections,” said Howe. “They each have their own area of expertise, so it’s been a great boon to them to be able to contribute to the class in their section but benefit from seeing what the other teachers have posted. A class that requires a wide level of expertise can actually be taught by people with specializations.”
As The Kinkaid School looks to the future, it plans on expanding PowerSchool Learning usage with all Middle School teachers utilizing the product. Eventually, the school hopes to expand usage to the Upper School as well.
In the 2016-2017 school year, they are also leveraging PowerSchool Learning’s LTI capabilities to expand learning opportunities with others tools from within the platform.
“We are implementing Turnitin and EBSCO Discovery Service,” said Vrotny. “They’re being connected via PowerSchool Learning’s LTI partnerships to embed within our classes, creating modules that students can access without leaving PowerSchool Learning.”
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