Readability: making the web easier to read

I am fortunate in the links that I get from so many different sources. The most interesting ones seem to come from Google Plus at the moment and it was from this source that I learnt about a very interesting bookmarking site called “Readability“.

The link above is to the page where the site describes its own history and aims. The main aim though seems to sum it all up:

It all started with the desire for a better, smarter, more readable web…

When you join up with Readability you get the ability to save any article that you are reading on the web and it will transform the article into a simple reading experience that cuts out ads, and other extraneous features. This allows you to concentrate on the text.

I decided to give it a try and created a readability  add-on for my Google Chrome browser. I was able to look at an article from the New Yorker  Magazine website called “Get Rich U.” about the very open relationship between Stanford University and Silicon Valley.

In the original web view there are advertisements and links right across the top of the screen and on the right hand side of the page.This squeezes the text into the left hand side of the page and makes it O.K. to read but nowhere near as good as when you introduce the “Readability” effect.

With one click of my add-on icon (which is a small comfy red sofa)  I got three options to Read Now, Read Later or Send to Kindle. I pressed “Read Now” and a small grey box appeared that said “Converting”. Within a few seconds the article had transformed itself so that I could read it across the whole page with no distractions. I found this much better.

I could see why this site has been so successful recently.It really does do what it sets out to do, which is to make the web a better reading experience. Articles can be saved for later perusal or reading and can be read on your computer, iPad, iPhone, Android phone or tablet.

What I like about all this is that it is taking the fact that more and more of our daily reading experiences will be from electronic media and trying to make that experience user-friendly.

The following is a really good video explaining the whole concept:

Give it a go.. it may well transform your enjoyment of reading on the web.

Jacob Barnett: achieving potential despite autism

I love way that the internet allows you to discover fascinating new people. Jacob Barnett certainly comes into that category.

I came across him by chance after following a link from Twitter to a TedXTeen Talk (not his). His talk was one of many to be seen at the right hand side of the screen. I was attracted to the title: “Forget What You Know” . It was a very fortunate discovery.

The talk showed a very excitable and highly intelligent boy of 13 with a nervous laugh, communicating an idea about the need to forget prior learning and just think out new and creative ideas. He talked about Newton and Einstein and how events in their lives had meant that they had not received a more formal “education” and had periods of time when they could think completely novel thoughts. These thoughts were to lead to world changing developments in science.

It was about half way through the talk that he actually told us a bit about himself. He was autistic and had been given “special educational support” which he found a complete waste of time. He was though, through the efforts of his parents, able to develop his own interests from a very early age. These were mostly mathematical and scientific and he has been called a “boy genius”.

He has appeared on various programmes on American T.V.such as “60 Minutes“. At age 2 he was diagnosed as autistic and began to regress into a world of his own. In the following video clip from the original “60 Minutes” programme his parents explain how he was able to overcome his language and communication difficulties simply by being able to do what he liked best and being empowered to talk about this.. i.e. mathematics and physics.

His parents have started a Centre called ” My Jacob’s Place” in his home state of Indiana. This centre explains itself as follows: “Specializing in where kids with autism can be awesome!” My Jacob’s Place ” has evolved from a small event in somebody’s garage to a large, functional charity that currently helps more than 200 kids with autism across Indiana”.

The basis of the work that they do with the children is in finding what interests them and then allowing this to be the basis for them to express themselves. They are not all child geniuses but they all have potential and the centre is trying to get them to develop their potential.

Jacob has developed into a personable young man who has a passion for mathematics and science. He happens to be something of a genius and he is achieving despite his autism of which he is somewhat proud.

Instagrok: a new educational search engine

Albert Einstein. Français : Portrait d'Albert ...
Albert Einstein. Français : Portrait d'Albert Einstein (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have recently been advised about Instagrok. There is a subtitle as you load the program “A new way to learn” and indeed it lives up to it’s promise. Instagrok is a search engine with a difference. A “Grok” is defined on the site in the following way:

grok (v): to understand thoroughly and intuitively

When you look for any subject it will return results in different formats. Foe example I looked up the term “Einstein” and was presented with the following information:

A graph that presents linked information about the subject… in this case “Theoretical physics“, “Brownian Motion“, “General Relativity“, “photoelectric Effect” and others.When you click one of “Key Facts” on the subject with links to further information appear in a box on the right hand side.

There is a journal which allows you to make notes that can be shared with others and will build up a further resource for the site in the future. There is a place to record sites visited and also to share these with others who are researching the same subject as you.

As if this wasn’t enough there are suggested websites, videos, images, a multiple choice type quiz to aid in the memorisation of the facts and a section that lists concepts that can be clicked.

In a very short space I learnt the basic facts about Einstein’s biography. Of his rise to fame as a scientist. I learnt that he had won the Nobel Prize in 1921 for his work on the Photoelectric Effect and that his theory of Relativity was very controversial at the time that he put it forward.

I found a reference to a video entitled: “Einstein’s Theory of Relativity Made Easy”. The video certainly lived up to it’s billing and was a good way for a layman such as myself to appreciate what all the fuss about Relativity was about.

All in all I learnt a lot about Einstein very quickly, I was able to use a multimedia approach to get information and I could have added what I learnt to a journal if I had wanted and could have shared this with others.

I think that Instagrok is a brilliant idea and one that I can thoroughly recommend to others. Has anyone come upon a better educational search engine? If so.. please let me know.


Why I shall be joining the U3A

I have recently undergone what is sometimes called a “life transformation”. I took voluntary redundancy and early retirement from my work as a Primary Mathematics Consultant with Southend-On-Sea Borough Council.

Retirement can be a very daunting experience as many of you may know. It marks the point at which you have a defined role within society and also the thing that takes up a large proportion of your week.

Not only did I retire though, my wife and I decided to put our house on the market and to relocate to Lincolnshire where her two sisters had blazed a trail by both moving in the last two years.

I was therefore in the throes of trying to sell a house, get rid of accumulated rubbish and old clothes that haven’t been worn in years as well as getting accustomed to not getting ready for work, ironing my shirts and checking my diary for forthcoming courses or meetings.

We found a lovely new two-bedroomed flat in Market Deeping, which is a lovely town on the border of Cambridgeshire and right next to the outskirts of the City of Peterborough. We are hoping to move in May.

I had decided, when I first thought of the prospect of retirement that I needed to do two things. I would make sure that I kept this blog running.It has been a constant source of enjoyment to me to learn new things and also to try and explain my thoughts and ideas to others .

The other thing was to join the University of the Third Age otherwise known as U3A. I first got to know about this organisation from my wife who went along to a few meetings a couple of years ago with some friends. As I was working at the time I did not really qualify for membership but did take the trouble to look up the U3A website.

I was really excited by an organisation that, as one member says in a video about the organisation, “has no curriculum, is about learners teaching and teachers learning and is free of Government connections or control”. The 30 year history of the organisation is well explained on the website. An important point was to allow freedom to explore, learn and participate without any tests, exams or restrictions.  This it has done brilliantly and it now has thousands of members throughout the country as well as being a part of the international U3A movement.

I shall be contacting the Deepings U3A , which I have found, from their website, has a number of groups. My wife and are are both interested in going to the Jazz Appreciation group and I hope to continue my learning of Spanish. I am also hoping that I can start a group of my own. Maybe one on blogging…..I do have a bit of experience at that!

The U3A have  made a number of videos about their organisation. One of my favourites is called “From Ukeles to Genealogy“.  I think it explains just why so many people get so much out of the organisation.




Mathematics without words

I have just come upon this excellent TedX Talk by Dr Matthew Peterson of the Mind Research Institute.

The pie-chart at the beginning of the video is a very powerful explanation of why he believes that the majority of pupils in schools do not learn by words. He explains that he himself has Dyslexia and did not read until the 5th Grade (Year 6). He then gives us a chance to see the excellent computer assisted learning programs featuring a Penguin, Jiji, that have been developed at the Mind Research Institute to help children (particularly those with difficulties in learning with words) to learn mathematics.

The results in California (where the Institute has its home) and in other parts of the U.S.A. have been impressive. Children are not threatened by the barrier of learning mathematical concepts using the medium of language. There are some really good examples of how the programs work on the Mind Research Institute’s website. There are also a number of really good videos, many of them moving testimonials about children with difficulties becoming confident and proficient in this most important area of the curriculum.

As someone who has an interest in mathematical education as well as a person who has recently become fascinated in learning about how our mind works by the study of neuroscience, it is really good to see how computer-assisted learning using good research can be effective in giving us answers to how we can help pupils to overcome difficulties in learning mathematics. I would very much like to see Jiji arrive on our shores here in Britain and would be interested to see how British pupils might benefit from these programs.