This spring, American teachers reacted with outrage to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s assertion that our classrooms are too traditional. Ridiculous, they said. Stock photos, they said.

If you want to see innovation, visit our classrooms. We do not fit your stereotype.

I want to agree. I don’t like sweeping generalizations, and I don’t agree with many of DeVos’s opinions, priorities or solutions. It’s easy to respond with outrage.

Unfortunately, in this case, she is not entirely wrong. Our classrooms are too traditional. Read this more thoughtful analysis of the problem, “A Slow Revolution,” published in Harvard Educational Review in 2014. (Or read my book, Beat Boredom (Stenhouse 2018).)

I’m just as guilty as anyone. Only this past semester did I finally take on the challenge of removing daily lecture from my AP Macroeconomics class.

I know better — yes, I’ve written an entire book on active learning strategies — but it was hard to let go. Macro is a difficult subject, and it’s a lot of content and analysis for high school kids to process in just 12 weeks.

For years, I’ve been giving my students lecture notes day after day — even though I know it’s a cop-out. It just seemed easier and safer than anything else, and I think I’m pretty good at explaining things.

But this semester, my students learned Macro through a blend of whiteboarding and flipped instruction. Each day, after some sort of activity — like creating squares and triangles to generate production possibilities data, buying snacks in a demand auction or buying and selling in a simulated cocoa market — students worked collaboratively to solve problems and present their findings to the class.

It was not entirely inquiry-based. They had access to videos (and a textbook) the night before. But if they didn’t watch or read, they had to rely on their own reasoning and discussion with classmates to learn.

For example, on the day when I would have explained step-by-step how to construct a price index, I instead gave them market basket data and let them figure out how to calculate an index themselves. It was a challenge.

Some of them got it right away — they had watched the video notes and knew just what to do. I was able to spend my time circulating and working one-on-one with the students who were struggling — a level of attention I was never able to give them before.

This semester was an interesting experiment. It was a lot of work up front, redesigning the practice problems I’ve used in the past to be more reasoning-based, rather than regurgitation-based. It’s also a lot of work to find or create the appropriate videos for each lesson.

If it’s successful — and I know it may take a few semesters and some finessing before it really works — I expect I’ll see higher test scores, fewer distractions, a lot less re-reteaching, and a lot less frustration with the material.

So far, the results are promising. This year’s students — 65 freshmen and a handful of upperclassmen — outperformed last year’s students on every test.

And there’s no evidence to suggest they are just “smarter” or “more motivated.” In fact, they performed worse on the class pretest than last year’s students (31% compared to 35%), and about 15% of them did not come in with the recommended math requirement (compared to 0% last year).

I believe we still have a lot of room for improvement when it comes to teaching strategies in our classroom. I don’t want to defend what many of my colleagues feel is an attack by Secretary DeVos. But lecture and memorization still plays too large a role in American high schools, and it’s going to take us to change that.