♫MUSIC♫ SPEAKER: And, you can see the eyes are jumping. MILES O’BRIEN: Matthew Schneps is an astrophysicist. He also has a learning disability. MATTHEW SCHNEPS: I have a PHD in physics from MIT, so I’m quite successful at some things, but reading is not one of them. MILES O’BRIEN: Schneps has dyslexia, which makes reading difficult. MATTHEW SCHNEPS: When I read, I find it’s very hard for me to kind of mentally lock onto the words. MILES O’BRIEN: Then he bought a smart phone – and found that for him, it was easier to read than a paper or a book. But, was it just him? Or, had he stumbled on something that could help others with dyslexia too? At the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Schneps specializes in how people learn science. With support from the National Science Foundation, he decided to put his smart phone theory to the test. He monitored students with dyslexia while they read, to see if reading off smart phones would improve their comprehension of STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and math. SPEAKER: …so each classroom will have a schedule… MILES O’BRIEN: The faculty and about a hundred students at the Landmark School near Boston volunteered to take part. The high school specializes in helping students overcome learning disabilities like dyslexia. In an initial test that pitted reading off paper against reading off a smart phone, Schneps found some – but not all – students read with greater comprehension off the device. Soon after, he did another round of testing using an eye tracker. AMANDA HEFFNER-WONG: This is the camera for the eye tracker… MILES O’BRIEN: He and his colleague Amanda Heffner-Wong demonstrated for us how it works. MATTHEW SCHNEPS: This is the motion of the eyes over time. And, the red is where she blinks. MILES O’BRIEN: This time, Schneps compared reading on a smart phone with reading on a tablet. And, this time, focused on reading speed. The students read faster. MALE STUDENT: I found it was a lot easier to keep track of the words and the lines. MILES O’BRIEN: Schneps found the key is having only two or three words on a line. MATTHEW SCHNEPS: And, what we’re saying is that people with dyslexia tend to get distracted by the words on either side, and even though they’re looking at the word their attention is going elsewhere. MARTHA DENATALE: In my opinion, the iPOD is a lot easier for me to read off of than the book. MILES O’BRIEN: Not all students with dyslexia benefited from reading off a device. Schneps says the next step is to determine why that is, and which students will be best served ditching the books for a better alternative. MATTHEW SCHNEPS: For me, the name of the game is to try and level the playing field, to make reading something that’s not an impediment to success. MILES O’BRIEN: We already know kids can’t seem to put their phones down. Now it seems at least some of them may have a really good reason for being glued to their screens. For Science Nation I’m Miles O’Brien.