A new randomized, controlled experiment suggests that using real-world examples to teach mathematics concepts may be the wrong way to go. The study found that the use of story problems can obscure the underlying math and leaves students unable to transfer their knowledge to new problems. One such example is the oft-used two trains departing from different cities at different speeds. More preferable are approaches that teach math using abstract, generic symbols.
The authors of the study are Jennifer A. Kaminski, Vladimir M. Sloutsky, and Andrew F. Heckler from Ohio State University. It appears in the April 25, 2008 edition of the journal Science.