The Kenton County School District knows that school is about more than earning good grades.

While topics like math are often taught by going over a formula in class and then assigning similar problems for homework, Kenton focuses on activities like critical thinking instead of straight memorization.

These new teaching initiatives are the Literary Design Collaborative and the Math Design Collaborative, programs formed to give teachers the tools to help all high school students meet the Common Core State Standards. A list of standards created by states across the country, the CCSS is designed to ensure students are ready for college courses upon graduation.

For the MDC, each lesson is taught in a particular order. First, the students are given a pre-assessment, where they attempt to understand the concept on their own. Having the students work alone allows teachers to see where each individual is struggling so the help needed is identified.

Students then work on a collaborative activity, where they meet in groups of two to four to work on a task. Instead of simply answering math problems, the students use group discussion and critical reasoning when approaching the activity.

The class then discusses their findings with the entire class, allowing all students to see how they dealt with their problem.

Finally, the students take another look at their pre-assessment. They can take what they have learned to fix and solve what vexed them before.

It’s what the school calls a “productive struggle.” These new math standards used from sixth grade through 11th grade are making math class an interactive event.

Kenton has also implemented the LDC in its sixth through 12th grade classes. To better help students read and understand materials, teachers are given fill-in-the-blank template tasks. A basic example of a template would tell the teacher to ask a question of the class, have the students read text and then write an essay that addresses the question and supports the students’ position with evidence from the text. The student is even required to acknowledge competing views. By requiring the students to approach the question in this way, they must use critical thinking skills.

The LDC is impacting more than English classes. These strategies are used to help students understand history and science as well. For example, a sixth grade science class argued for or against the idea of humans causing global warming using these same principles.

The success of Kenton’s program made them a recipient of a $600,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2011. They also led to Secondary Literary Consultant Gary McCormick and Secondary Math Consultant Jenny Barrett attending a technical working group meeting in August on researching college- and career-ready standards in Washington D.C.

“We learned a great deal from the research initiatives taking place around the country to improve teaching and learning and are excited that our teachers’ experiences in the classroom will inform the national research agenda toward substantial growth in student achievement,” says McCormick about both the LDC and MDC.