Andrew Sharp, Partner Sales Manager, Professional Solutions

Doing the math

Classrooms can seem like bewildering places for students with dyslexia, dyspraxia and other learning difficulties. It’s a similar story for young people trying to master subjects that aren’t being taught in their first language. 

Today, it’s good to know that there’s plenty of support out there. In the space of a generation we’ve made huge strides forward in making accommodations mainstream for students of all abilities and backgrounds, and at every grade level.

Much of this progress has been enabled by assistive technology (AT) that’s now a standard fixture in virtually every modern schoolroom. But there’s one area of study where technology has struggled to make online content accessible: math.


Students in math classroom

Making sense of mathematical expressions


Displaying mathematical notation electronically has traditionally been a bit of a headache for online educational publishers. HTML is the natural language of the web, but it was never designed to present numerical expressions.
Ordinary passages of text, like this sentence, stick to well-ordered horizontal rows. In contrast, math symbols, fractions and special characters are literally all over the place. 

While it’s familiar to most high school students, even this relatively simple equation is a headache for any technology trying to read it aloud:

X equals the fraction with numerator minus b plus or minus the square root of open bracket B squared minus 4 A C close bracket and the denominator 4 A C

Generally math equations tend to be displayed as an embedded image within e-books, LMS’s or web content. But that’s no good for assistive technology that can’t easily ‘see’ anything that isn’t text-based.
Embedded pictures are simply ignored, making math literally invisible to the very students who need extra help understanding it, or having to read aloud to them.

At Texthelp we’re well aware of this challenge. And to make life easier for educational content creators - and their students - we’ve woven some clever technology into our own AT products.

Enshrined in current internet standards, MathML (‘Mathematical Markup Language’) allows mathematical formulae to be smoothly integrated into ordinary web pages.  That’s great news for educational publishers – not least for users of our SpeechStream toolbar that already enhances a number of Math e-textbooks. One enthusiastic customer for the technology is Waggle, who've added SpeechStream with MathML support to their popular learning product.

At last, math doesn’t have to be a foreign language for students, especially young people with learning difficulties who may struggle to access online educational resources. And with only 40% of 4th graders and 33% of 8th graders scoring at, or above, the proficient level in Mathematics (see The Nation’s Report Card), it’s clear that our students need as much support as possible in accessing and understanding math content.

Get in touch if you’re an educational publisher. We’ll be delighted to discuss how we can add extra sparkle to your own online math study products.

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