A new Vanderbilt University study, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, finds that students learn best when taught the concepts behind math problems rather than specific procedures on how to solve them, reports ScienceDaily.
“When you just show [students] how to do the problem they can solve it, but not necessarily understand what it is about. With conceptual instruction, they are able to come up with the procedure on their own,” said Percival Matthews, Peabody doctoral candidate and co-author of the study.
In math classes now, many teachers demonstrate solving a problem and then have students practice similar problems—without ever providing a big picture explanation of the mathematical theory.
The researchers also found that having students explain their work offers no discernible improvement in learning. The study suggests that the benefits of self-explanation, as determined in previous studies, are due to giving students additional time to think.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.