Podcast Transcript: If a train heading east leaves Chicago at noon and a train heading west leaves New York an hour later, will that make you any better at math? New evidence says "No." In a report in the April 25th issue of the journal Science, researchers from Ohio State University say the preferred method of teaching math just doesn't make the grade. The researchers taught undergraduates mathematical principles they would need to solve future problems. Some were taught using concrete visual examples, like cups filled with water or a pizza cut into slices. Other students learned abstract formulas in terms like "n=x."
When asked to solve new problems using these teachings, major discrepancies appeared. In one case, abstract-learning students scored an average of 80 percent on a test. Their "real-world" counterparts, however, seemed unable to transfer their knowledge to a new situation, posting only a 44 percent average. The researchers say using concrete examples is alluring, because students seem to learn lessons faster. However, students who take the time to get abstract concepts down are able to get on the train before it leaves the station.