A new study challenges the common practice in many classrooms of teaching mathematical concepts by using “real-world,” concrete examples. Researchers led by Jennifer Kaminski, researcher scientist at Ohio State University’s Center for Cognitive Science, found that college students who learned a mathematical concept with concrete examples couldn’t apply that knowledge to new situations.
But when students first learned the concept with abstract symbols, they were much more likely to transfer that knowledge, according to the study published in the April 25 issue of the journal Science.
“These findings cast doubt on a long-standing belief in education,” said Vladimir Sloutsky, co-author of the study and professor of psychology and human development and the director of the Center for Cognitive Science at Ohio State.
“The belief in using concrete examples is very deeply ingrained, and hasn’t been questioned or tested.”