There used to be one right answer and one way to solve a problem. But that philosophy is changing as school districts across the state transition to Common Core standards.
In 2001, President George W. Bush proposed the No Child Left Behind Act. That was the first time all 50 states adopted an academic standard. After receiving a failing grade by the federal government in 2007, Tennessee began working to create a path from classroom achievement to workplace success.
In 2008, Tennessee adopted higher standards and in 2010, adopted Common Core. Knox County Schools began implementing the program in 2011. So far, 48 states have signed on to use Common Core standards.
Common Core is a different set of standards that encourages critical thinking, problem solving and creativity. That means the way teachers teach and students learn is changing.
10News visited three Knox County classrooms at Northshore Elementary, Gresham Middle and West High Schools. At Gresham Middle School we watched a 7th grade math lesson. Teacher Bryan Paschal showed the class there's one right answer, but there could be several ways to find it. 'We found at least four different ways of getting the answer," Paschal told his class.
In addition to finding the answer to a problem in different ways, students are learning to explain how they found that answer. "They also have to have a really good conceptual understanding of things. It's no longer just here is the answer, but how did you get that answer and what does it mean in the context of this problem," Paschal said.
To make sure students understand, teachers are asking "why?". Why did you use this method to solve a problem, and could there be other ways to reach the same answer? If that answer is wrong, students work through why it isn't correct.
"By going through the incorrect answers, they can be better problem solvers and understand the processes behind it," third grade Northshore Elementary teacher Jessica Greer said. It's all an attempt at deeper thinking.
"I can get them to explore higher order thinking skills than I could in years previous because I am not the one telling them what the answers are. They are telling me what the answers are," West High School English teacher Lindsey Stinnett said.
The goal of interactive classrooms, discussions and critical thinking is to make students more college and career ready. Superintendent Dr. Jim McIntyre said that means students will be more competitive later in life.
"We want our students to be successful, to compete with students around the state, around the country and around the world. And Common Core is about having those rigorous standards that go further in depth and give them the type of skills that they need to be successful in today's world and tomorrow's world," McIntyre said.