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To take the yawn out of math equations, teach the teachers

In an effort to boost K-12 student achievement, the US Department of Education sends star teachers on tour to share their ideas

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They're quite a bit older than Mark Hannum's typical students. But they seem just as relieved to get to play with motion sensors and brightly colored basketballs rather than be lectured to for an hour and a half.

Mr. Hannum does manage to wow his audience of fellow math teachers with research suggesting why his lesson plans have helped nearly 97 percent of students achieve proficiency in math at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, D.C. They are impressed with the fact that 95 percent of seniors there opt to take a math or science elective. But the best evidence of his teaching's effectiveness is letting his audience play "student" and have their own fun as they tackle sinusoidal equations and exponential decay.

"I'm hoping to bring more hands-on experiences to my students," says participant Dawn Robertson, who teaches fourth- to sixth-graders at the Boston Renaissance Charter Public School. "You're basically competing with the video age, so you've got to be fascinating." She's one of about 250 who attended two days of teacher-run sessions on math and science last week, hosted by the US Department of Education at the EMC Corporation in Hopkinton, Mass.

It was one of 14 free workshops this summer that are part of the Teacher-to-Teacher Initiative. Through online learning and in-person training, the initiative gives teachers the kind of professional development they especially like – practical ideas from their peers. By selecting presenters who can back up what they share with research on its effectiveness, officials hope to create a ripple effect of higher-quality instruction.

About 10,000 teachers will have participated in the three-year-old initiative by the end of the summer. Some of this year's workshops are being held in conjunction with the National Park Service, focusing on history and science in places like Billings, Mont. Other themes include English as a second language and the teaching of Mandarin Chinese.

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