A new study by Ohio State University researchers reported in the April 25th issue of the journal Science reveals the old “two trains traveling at 60 miles per hour in opposite directions” style word problems are less effective at training students in math than more abstract concepts, such as finding the value of 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.
I always said thought it was the word problems that were abstract but that’s semantics. I don’t know that the blame of this lies solely in the type of problem but more in the execution of that style of problem. Word problems should be “real-world” and not concepts that have no bearing in real life, like trains leaving stations. Who cares? That’s what the train’s schedule is there for. So you can see when they arrive ahead of time. In my opinion, these “real-world” word problems would be more effective if they focussed on useful economics and statistics instead of pointless distances and concepts that only relate to the “real-world” in a teacher’s head.
Via: Scientific American