While developmental learning theory highlights the need to represent new concepts in concrete fashion, if we do not help students move toward more abstract thinking about concepts, they will likely not be able to transfer their understanding to new situations (Kaminski, et al).
When students are introduced to a concept using concrete (or as “real” as possible) representations they are better able to grasp the ideas more quickly. For example, if I want to teach students about sinking and floating, I should have them sinking and floating objects, not introducing the formula for density immediately! However, if we never move beyond concrete experiences to discuss the idea of density and how it affects floating, students would not be able to determine if an object would, say, float in oil rather than water. This new problem requires transfer of knowledge and transfer of knowledge requires abstract thinking. So now the question we must all wrestle with is how to help our students move from concrete to more abstract thought capabilities.
I hope your’ll share your suggestions/ideas/strategies in the comments!