How often do you hear someone say something like, “Oh, I can’t do math in my head,” or, “I’m so bad at math.” For some reason we accept statements like these from coworkers and friends without questioning their intelligence. But just imagine what your reaction would be if the same person claimed, “Oh, I just can’t read that well.”

As teachers we need to recognize that it’s unacceptable for our students to underachieve in math and to chalk it up to “just not being good at it.” Thanks to educational technology like the interactive whiteboard, we can create math lessons and activities that address our students’ individual readiness levels, interests and learning styles, and give them the tools they need to be successful at math. Here is a roundup of five great shortcuts for creating a rigorous, differentiated math lesson.

Use Virtual Manipulatives to Help Students Visualize Operations

Students eventually need to memorize their math facts so that they can do more advanced mathematical tasks with fractions and decimals and in geometry and algebra. But its important for teachers to introduce operations by spending time teaching them to visualize addition, subtraction, multiplication and division so that they can grasp the mathematical concepts behind them. You can use a virtual abacus to teach addition and subtraction, or use our number line bars to teach arithmetic with a number line. Other virtual tools you can use include dice to teach number recognition and counting, a virtual calculator to use with other tools, and a protractor, ruler or balance to teach measuring and sizes.

Illustrate Abstract Concepts with Animations

Short animations can help visual learners grasp abstract mathematical concepts. This animation, for example, visually explains how to derive the formula for finding the difference in area between two squares. Being able to visualize exactly what is being measured will help students to remember the formula and apply it to solve problems.

Games to Memorize Facts for Fluency

Teachers place a huge emphasis on memorizing math facts in the primary and intermediate elementary grades because students will need to use these facts in the upper grades to solve higher level mathematical problems. But gone are the days of having students simply chant their multiplication tables or study flash cards. Virtual multiplication tables and flash cards are useful. But kids like games, so let them play games that require them to quickly remember their facts. They’ll think they’re just playing, but they’ll have their facts memorized in no time. One of my favorites is Brainie, where students have to click on number combinations to add or multiply to create the target number. Play Bingo to teach number recognition, or Memory to practice recognizing equivalent fractions.

Activities to Apply Math Skills to Solve Problems

Once students have memorized their facts and have grasped the mathematical concepts of numeracy, operations and algebraic thinking, data and probability and geometry, they’re prepared to apply these skills to solving problems. They’re ready to use higher-order thinking skills to identify strategies to solve problems, explain their reasoning, and interpret and communicate results. Project T.R.I.G. is a good example of an interactive, on-line game that lets students apply math skills to solving a problem. Students have to apply their understanding of the mathematics of projectile motion to send critical supplies to a village under siege. In The X-Detectives, students apply their understanding of symmetry, translations and rotations, integers, and functions and graphs to visit rooms and solve problems.

Activities to Learn Vocabulary

Students need to understand and use mathematical vocabulary correctly, not only to be able to precisely communicate their thinking with others, but also to accurately understand what is being communicated to them. In the primary grades, sorting and classifying games allow students to explore connections among ideas and expand their understanding of mathematical concepts while learning common mathematical vocabulary terms. In the higher grades, students need to study difficult mathematical concepts, and it’s crucial that they can fluently use and understand complex mathematical terms.

These are my five non-negotiable components for creating lessons that challenge my students to achieve in math. What advice do you have to help teachers use the IWB to raise the bar for their students?