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Background of the Study

 Science is a great enterprise in which nations depend on, in-order to advance technologically.  Science therefore, is receiving much emphasis in education because of its significance and relevance to life and society. Opinions have differed significantly as to the exact meaning of science.  Okeke (2007) asserted that there is no specific definition of science and so, viewed science as a systematic process of obtaining testable and verifiable knowledge about nature and natural occurrences, utilizing careful observation and experimentation. Science is basically concerned with answering questions about how the universe works (Ige, 2001). Therefore, from science flowed a stream of knowledge, skills and inventions for the improvement of human life.   Ali (1998) stated that science is both process and product derived from experimentation. This means that science involves doing experimental and laboratory-oriented work. Broadly speaking, Science is made up of practical and theoretical aspects. While the practical aspect is activity loaded, the theoretical aspect emphasizes content exposition using the “chalk and talk” method, thereby presenting the lesson in abstraction to the students.

Biology is a branch of science that deals with the study of living things. Odigie (2001) explained that biology is the prerequisite subject for many fields of learning that contributes immensely to the technological growth of the nation. This includes medicine, forestry, agriculture, biotechnology and nursing. It is taught in senior secondary school as provided in group A, (as one of the core subjects) of the National Policy on Education. The study of Biology in senior secondary school can equip students with useful concepts, principles and theories that will enable them face the challenges before and after graduation. This is in line with the broad goals of secondary education which is to prepare individuals for useful living within the society (Federal Republic of Nigeria (FRN), 2004).                    

            Nwagbo (2008: 41) maintained that:

Biology as a science subject is a practical course. Being concerned with the study of life, the entire environment which life exists, can serve as its laboratory while the entire living organisms (biotic) and the non-living (abiotic) components of the environment serve as its resources. The use of practical activities (approach) to the teaching of biological concepts should therefore be a rule rather than an option to biology teachers, if we hope to produce students that would be able to acquire the necessary knowledge, skills and competence needed to meet the scientific and technological demands of the nation”.

            According to Ali (2008), practical activities can be defined as the various technical work components, systematically carried out with the ultimate intention of creating a product or explaining scientific phenomena. Examples are: carrying out operations such as sorting of specimens, dissection of specimen and observation of growth rate, food testing and experimenting with chemicals. Practical activities in biology provide opportunities for students to actually do science as opposed to learning about science. Practical activities therefore, are the backbone of biology teaching and learning. 

             Nzewi (2008) asserted that practical activities (approach) can be regarded as a strategy that could be adopted to make the task of a teacher (teaching) more real to the students as opposed to abstract or theoretical presentation of facts, principles and concepts of subject matters. Nzewi (2008) maintained that practical activities (approach) should engage the students in hands-on, mind-on activities, using varieties of instructional materials/equipment to drive the lesson home.                    

            These activities in biology at the secondary school level have been incorporated into the Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination syllabus (2002), which stipulated the goals of biology practical as follows:

  1. Promote the power of observation;
  2. Promote the ability to represent observation by illustration;
  3. Develop the ability to relate form to function;
  4. Develop power to recognize general characteristics of animals and plants;
  5. Develop ability to perform simple experiment and draw conclusion from result obtained; and
  6. Interpret data, which illustrate certain known biological principles.

These goals can only be achieved through effective usage of the laboratory. In the laboratory, the learners acquire more in science learning when given the chance to perform certain tasks that will include manipulating apparatus, classifying data, designing experiments, hypothesis formation to verifying and drawing conclusions. The laboratory has always been the most distinctive feature of biology instruction and continues to occupy a central position in all of the new science curricular (Urevbu, 1990). It should be noted that laboratory work is not one kind of activity, but a range of activities from true experimental investigations to confirmatory exercise and skill-learning. It would seem evident that this type of laboratory work must be a very significant variable in the study of the effectiveness of practical biology learning.

The common connection between practical biology and the use of the laboratory is based on the agreement that science is experimental. Therefore, any course in science such as biology should reflect this by including laboratory (practical) work. Practical, in the context of biology teaching and learning is not restricted to the laboratory alone, it can be done outdoors. Students’ problem-solving skills can only be enhanced by helping them acquire a wide range of experiences available outdoors and which are necessary for solving problems. For instance, by taking them on field trips, excursions to acquire more knowledge outside the laboratory as have been earlier stated by Nwagbo (2008).

The search for a more effective approach for the teaching and learning of biology that will enhance the acquisition of process skills has persisted over the years. This is because, the acquisitions of science process skills are the bases for scientific inquiry and the development of intellectual skills and attitudes that are needed to learn concepts. Nwosu (1991) maintained that science process skills are abilities which can be developed by experience and used in carrying out mental and physical operations.  Acquisition of science process skills can enhance students’ achievement of science subjects. Also, the acquisition of science process skills will help the child to explore his environment and solve certain scientific problems. These process skills have the enduring quality that will contribute to the students’ ability to solve problems even when the information base of science and technology changes. Nwosu (1991) emphasized that education for the future therefore, should be the type that will equip the individual with the power to adapt to change. This should be the most important goal of any society that wants to progress.     

According to Nwosu (1991), the 1967 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), identified fifteen process skills. These are:

I.      Observing                                                              II. Measuring          

III   .Classifying                                                             IV. Communicating

V.     Predicting                                                              VI. Inferring                       

VII.     Using number                                                     VIII. Using space/time relationship

 IX.      Questioning                                                        X controlling variables

 XI      Defining operationally                                      XII. Formulating models

XIII.    Hypothesizing                                                  XIV. Designing experiment 

XV.     Interpreting data

Realizing the importance of science process skills in solution to scientific problems, the Federal Government, among other things, states as one of the national goals of education in Nigeria that: “education should aim at helping the child in the acquisition of appropriate skills, abilities and competencies, both mental and physical as equipment for the individual to live in and contribute to the development of the society” (Federal Republic of Nigeria (FRN), 2004:). In order to realize this goal, various science curricular and research programmes, such as Science Teachers Association of Nigeria (STAN) and Nigerian Integrated Science Project (NISP) were set up by the government to look into the various curricula used at various levels of Nigerian educational system. The various curricula developed, have their objectives which have to be achieved for a successful science education and attainment of the national goals and aspirations. These goals and aspirations cannot be realized except through the effective effort of the classroom teacher.

However, Nwagbo (2001) reported that a number of factors have been identified as contributing to the non-acquisition of skills by secondary school students which invariably leads to poor performance. One of such factors is the teacher variable, that is, the teacher’s method of teaching. Research reports (Nwosu, 1991; Nwagbo, 1999 and Okoli, 2006) indicate that many science teachers prefer the traditional expository/lecture method of teaching that is, a teaching technique in which one person, the teacher, presents a spoken discourse on a particular subject and shy away from activity-oriented teaching methods which are student centered (such as inquiry method, discovery method, investigative laboratory approach). The problem is compounded by the fact that most students in senior secondary schools offer biology, resulting to high student - teacher ratio. Consequently, the teachers have too much work load as a result of large class size (Ajayi, 1998). Ajayi further pointed out that large class size, poor materials in terms of laboratory space and equipment, mixed nature of biology class, over loaded syllabus and inadequate number of periods allocated to biology, pose a serious problem to teaching the practical aspects of biology.

In addition to this, the issue of gender differentiation is a very strong issue in Nigerian culture. There is a general belief among Nigerians that boys are superior to girls in terms of physical physique, cognition and logical reasoning (Anigbogu, 2002). Okeke (2007) asserted that gender and gender stereotyping permeate every aspect of human endeavor and come to mould and colour our thoughts and expectations of the capabilities of individuals. Okeke (2007) continues by saying that the consequences of gender stereotyping cut across social, economic, political and educational development especially in the area of science and technology. Difference in academic performance due to gender has caused a great deal of concern to educationist.  Adegboye (1998) observed that many parents do not want to spend as much on female education as that of the male because of social or cultural environment. The school consciously or unconsciously provides an avenue for channeling students into prescribed gender activities. Example, the grouping of subjects in schools encourages stereotyping in the choice of subjects. The grouping of nutrition /technical drawing, physics/ home management, compel the females to choose food and nutrition and home management while the males choose technical drawing and physics. Some studies on gender and performance have indicated that boys perform better than girls in science related tasks, (Graybill as cited in Nwosu 1991). Nwosu (1991) is of the opinion that cognitive ability and type of exposure may relate more strongly to the general achievement level in science than gender. However, there are two major schools of thought; one is of the opinion that there is a difference in favor of the male and the other maintained that there are no differences irrespective of the sex of the student. This study is expected to contribute to the debate.

 Nwosu (1991) and Mandor (2002) reported a very poor performance on science process skills among secondary school students in Nigeria. So, this study is set out to investigate the extent of the students’ acquisition of some of these process skills, to join in the debate. Some studies have shown that some innovation strategies like guided inquiry, cooperative learning and constructivism can enhance students’ performance in science Nworgu (1999) and Nwosu and Nzewi (2000). The researcher therefore considers it necessary to explore the field of science process skills with regard to the level of their acquisition, using practical activities and the conventional method (lecture method) of teaching biology in secondary schools. The researcher will also look into gender as a factor of variability among students to ascertain if such factor can influence the acquisition of science process skills of observing, classifying, measuring, communicating and experimenting.

Statement of the Problem

Science learning is expected to produce individuals that are capable of solving their problem as well as those of the society. Such individuals are expected to be autonomous, confident and self reliant. Such science and technology constitute the basis of advancement in nearly all fields of human endeavors. Adeyemi (1990) reported that all is not well with science instruction in Nigerian secondary schools, and noted that science teaching lays extreme emphasis on content and the use of “chalk and talk”  method. This negligence and ‘shy-away’ attitude of not adopting activity oriented method of teaching has led to abstraction which makes the students less active and more prone to rote memorization. Based on this, the Federal Government of Nigeria is emphasizing “the teaching and learning of science process and principles which will lead to fundamental and applied research in the sciences at all levels of education” (FRN, 2004).  A lot has been done to improve science teaching in secondary schools in Nigeria. In spite of that, students continue to perform poorly in science subjects, of which biology is one.  This situation has created the need for more effective teaching method. It then becomes necessary to explore the efficacy of alternative method of redressing this situation. Studies have been done on science process skills, but there is no empirical evidence so far, on effects of biology practical activities on students’ process skills acquisition. Therefore, the problem of this study posed as a question is: which of the two teaching methods chosen (practical activity method and lecture method) better elicits the acquisition of science process skills?

Scope of Study

          This study was conducted in the Municipal Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory. The choice of this area is based on the fact that the researcher is familiar with the area, and this will give the researcher the opportunity to effectively monitor and supervise the study. The researcher was restricted to five process skills out of the fifteen identified by the AAAS- Observation, Communication, Experimentation, measurement and Classification. These are preferred to the others because they enhance the acquisition of science process skills more than others especially the concept -Animal nutrition which is the concept selected to guide the study. The choice of the concept is because it is contained in SS1 biology curriculum of the Federal Ministry of Education (FME, 1985).

The following were covered under the concept Animal nutrition:

-Food substances

- The concept of a balanced diet and its importance

-Food tests

-Digestive enzymes

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study is to determine the effects of biology practical activities on students’ process skill acquisition in Abuja Municipal Area Council.

Specifically, the study intends to ascertain:

  1. the differential effects of biology practical activities and lecture method on the level of acquisition of science process skills,
  2. the extent to which gender influences the  acquisition of science process skills,
  3. the extent the instructional methods interact with  gender to affect students’ acquisition of science process skills.

Significance of the Study

It is hoped that the findings of this study will be of significance to the following:             

The findings will be of immense benefit to students opting to study professional courses in the Universities. It is expected that science process skills will be acquired through intense practical activities which will enhance performance of students, implying that more students will be available for enrolment in science professional courses in the universities.

Through the acquisition of science process skills, rote learning will be minimized or even stopped, and science will then be seen as a productive practical-oriented venture.  What the teacher will impart on the students will be more meaningful, and the teachers’ work will also be much more appreciated and more easily understood.

The research findings will help the curriculum planners to plan the biology curriculum in such a way that the contents will be filled with activities which teachers and students will do together. It is expected that by involving students in practical activities, they will not only learn science concepts, but will also acquire science process skills and develop scientific attitude to problem solving.

The findings of this study will provide a basis for decision among teachers, on the effective teaching methods to be adopted in Nigerian Educational system to make science teaching more meaningful and interesting to the students. Also, it will enable biology teachers to adjust their teaching patterns and recognize students’ ownership of ideas which will be negotiated in the classroom.  

The findings of this work will help Science Educators in training of the science teachers in higher institutions in line with competencies necessary for inculcating these science process skills in students. Moreover, this awareness will enable the science educators to find the right solution to the problems involved in the acquisition of science process skills as well as creating awareness of possible factors that would promote them.

Research Questions

The following research questions will guide the study,

1.      Which of the two teaching methods (practical activity and lecture) better fosters the acquisition of science process skills, as measured by the students’ mean science process skill acquisition test (SPSAT)?                                 

2.     What is the influence of gender on students’ mean score when exposed to practical activity or lecture method on a science process skill acquisition test SPSAT?

3.      How does gender interact with teaching method to influence students’ acquisition of science process skills?


            The following null hypotheses will be tested at 0.05 level of significance.

HO1: There is no significant difference in the mean science process skill acquisition test score of students taught biology using practical activity method and those taught using lecture method.

HO2: There is no significant difference between male and female students’ mean score on a science process skills acquisition test (SPSAT)

HO3:    The interaction effect between teaching methods and gender of the subjects is not significant.


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