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How to Read Maths with Immersive Reader

by Paul Nisbet

on Tue Jan 26, 2021

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Last Friday a teacher asked if we knew how to read mathematical expressions with Immersive Reader. Here's how it can be done.

The question:

We are looking for an alternative to PDF for Mathematics papers as we have a number of pupils who rely on use of Immersive Reader. At the moment they are struggling to access past practice papers (which SQA provide in PDF form). I tried converting from PDF to word, but Immersive Reader is reading symbols and equations wrong and it is making things even more confusing. Is there any application out there that supports the use of Immersive Reader to be able to read Mathematics correctly?!

(An) answer:

Yes - if you create the equation using the Word Equation Editor, then Immersive Reader can generally read it correctly. The screen shot below shows how Immersive Reader can be used to access the question and the answer, also typed in with the Equation Editor. Sometimes Immersive Reader gives you detail you might not want - for example it says "open paren" for an open bracket - and it can be quite confusing for more complex expressions.

screen shot showing Immersive Reader reading a maths expresssion

When you convert a PDF into a Word file the mathematical symbols in the PDF appear in the Word version, but they are symbols, not equations, and Immersive Reader doesn't seem to know what to do with symbols.

This video shows how Immersive Reader copes with symbols compared to expressions created with the Equation Editor. Wind on to about 2:00 if you want to go straight to the part that shows reading equations with Immersive Reader.

 

 

However, it could be really helpful to have materials in Word format with equations that can be read with Immersive Reader, so to start the ball rolling I've made a formula sheet for National 5 Paper 1 - download it and try it out.

I considered making Word versions of all the SQA past papers (and started on one) but I'm pretty slow with the editor and have a few other things to do at the moment. Maybe we want a group of dynamic maths teachers to create past papers (and the new National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher papers) in Word, with the editor, and then share them, so we don’t all re-invent the wheel?

PDF is a great format for sharing maths resources in many ways, but as we've seen, Immersive Reader doesn't work and while you can draw and markup on a PDF, it's difficult to actually type a mathematical expression into a maths resource so they aren't the best for students with handwriting or motor challenges. If the resources were in Word, students could use the Word Equation Editor to answer the questions.

Reading STEM expressions in PDFs

Why can't we read mathematical and scientific expressions from PDFs with a computer text reader? The main reason I think is because PDF cannot embed an equation as an equation - the equation is a set of symbols and pictures or sometimes even just an image. This is presumably why expressions appear as discrete symbols when you convert it into a Word file.

It's a real pity that the PDF to Word conversion process doesn't create equations because as the teacher says, the SQA papers are provided as PDFs and you can't read the STEM expressions with most text or screen readers. Also there are some really excellent sources of mathematical resources such as National 5 Maths, Mathsrevision and the National eLearning Offer but all the materials seem to be PDFs.

It's possible that many maths teachers already have .docx resources that they used to make all these PDFs created with the Equation Editor already, so perhaps these could be shared through Glow or the National eLearning Offer?

Equatio

EquatiO is one of the few tools you can use to read maths expressions directly from a PDF. EquatiO is a ‘screen shot reader’ that first converts the selected area on screen into a mathematical expression and then reads it out. It's available for Google, Windows and Mac.

screen shot showing Equatio reading an expression

EquatIO does seem to be pretty good at reading expressions but it only reads the maths: it did not work when I tried to select a whole sentence including a mathematical expression. A student who needs the carrying text read would therefore have to use both a text reader and EquatIO, which may be quite confusing. EquatIO is free for teachers and costs £150 for a single student annual licence – site licences are available. The screenshot reader in EquatIO requires an internet connection which may be a consideration in an assessment.

Equations written with EquatIO can be read back accurately with Texthelp’s Read&Write product. The advantage of this is that the Read&Write reader reads both the text and the maths fluidly – unlike the EquatIO screenshot reader which can only read the maths. The disadvantage is that Read&Write is also £150 / user / year.

EquatIO is also an equation editor for staff or students to write equations. You can type, handwrite or dictate an expression and EquatIO converts it to digital maths which can be added into a Microsoft Word file or G Suite apps. It predicts expressions as you type, write or dictate.

screen shot of Equatio equation editor

 

Tags: maths, text-to-speech, text reader, dyslexia

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