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The study investigated the effects of modes of laboratory activities on students’ achievement in biology. Three research questions and three null hypotheses guided the study. The review of literature in the study was organized under conceptual framework, theoretical framework and review of empirical studies. In the conceptual framework, concept of laboratory in science teaching and learning, organization in laboratory work, concept of academic achievement and gender in science education were reviewed. Piaget’s cognitive constructivist learning theory and Vygotsky’s social learning theory were reviewed under theoretical framework. The empirical study examined studies on modes of laboratory activities and studies on gender and students achievement in science. A quasi-experimental design was adopted for the study, specifically, the non-equivalent pre-test and post-test control group type. The study was carried out in Jalingo L. G. A. of Taraba State. The sample for the study comprised of two hundred and ten (210) students drawn from the population of study using purposive-sampling technique. Two treatment groups were used for this study; they are group and individual laboratory works, which were assigned to experimental group I & II. The treatments lasted for four weeks. The instrument for data collection in this study was a Biology Achievement Test (BAT). Data collected from the field work questions were analyzed using mean, standard deviation and Analysis of Covariance (ANCOVA) to test the hypotheses at 0.05 level of significance. The results revealed that students taught biology using group laboratory activity performed better than their counterparts taught using individual laboratory activity. Male students had higher mean achievement score than their female counterparts. There was no significant interaction effect of mode of laboratory activity and gender on students’ mean achievement score. In line with the findings of the study, the educational implications were highlighted and recommendations made which include among others that biology teachers should use group laboratory activity in teaching biology practical. Finally, the limitations of the study and suggestions for further studies were made.




Background of the Study

Science is a special type of discipline with peculiar characteristics, the prominent among which is the approach through which knowledge is sought. This approach is known as scientific method. Scientific method is a logical, rational and systematic process by which knowledge in science is acquired. The steps involved in scientific method are observation, hypotheses, predictions, experimentations, conclusion and host of others (Ezeh, 2013).

Science is both a process (scientific method) and a product (knowledge, fact and principles) (Ezeh, 2013). Both the process and product of science are acquired through education and this is specialized type of education such as science education. Science plays important roles in the society because it relates to our daily life and career. The importance of science in our society made the Federal Government of Nigeria, through the Federal Ministry of Education to introduce science subjects in the nation’s secondary school curriculum. Biology is one of such subjects introduced.                            

Biology is a branch of science that deals with the study of living things, which includes human-beings (Michael, 2012). Biology has many branches which include; zoology, botany, ecology, genetics, morphology, anatomy, physiology, histology, microbiology, evolution, cell biology to mention but a few. Many societal issues are biology-based. These include biodiversity, genetically modified organisms, reproductive technologies, prolongation of life, food production, tourism industry (biological gardens) and processing industries. All of these issues have involved improvements that meet human needs and so this twentieth century has been considered as ‘the age of biology’ (Reiss, 1998). The knowledge of biology helps in checking environmental degradation such as desertification, erosion, water hyacinth, land, air and water pollution.

The cardinal objectives of biology education are to prepare students to acquire: adequate laboratory and field skills in biology; meaningful and relevant knowledge in biology; ability to apply scientific knowledge to everyday life in matter of personal and community health and agriculture; lastly reasonable and functional scientific attitudes (Federal Ministry of Education, 2004). Despite the importance of biology, students’ achievement in the subject from West African Secondary School Certificate Examination

(WASSCE) has been poor (Glasson, 2009). Available data on students’ performance in biology in School Certificate revealed that on the average, more than 80 percent of students scored below credit level in the past three years in the WASSCE; the aspects of biology which students find difficult in WASSCE are practical questions on food test, examples carbohydrates, proteins and fats/oils, this indicates that students lack basic practical principles such as observation, and interpretation of the specimens provided for the examination (WAEC Chief Examiners Report, 2011, 2012 & 2013).  Enebechi (2009) stated that some biology teachers fail to conduct biology practical along-side every topic treated during lessons, until a few days to examination when they will use WAEC specimens to conduct practical for their students. Eze (2011) inferred that practical work is a unique strategy of teaching and learning of biology because it enables science students to observe and manipulate materials to demonstrate certain aspects of the subject matter, which have been learnt in the class through lectures, discussion and textbooks.

Researchers have seen the need to make teaching and learning interactive and learner- centered. According to Adesoji (2006) and Offiah (2007), poor teaching methods such as lecture and demonstrations used by secondary school teachers without involving students have been found to contribute to poor achievement in biology.

According to Aniodoh (2001) lecture and demonstration methods are poor instructional approaches to be used in biology laboratory because they do not give room for active learning but only help intellectual passivity and weariness of the learners. This view was amplified by Agbai (2004) who stated that lecture method is not suitable for slow learners, that it promotes rote learning and lack of opportunity for students to: interact with one another; learn how to manipulate or handle practical materials; to reflect on the work they carried out in the laboratory and transfer the knowledge acquired during learning processes to solve their daily life problems.   Adesoji (2006) opined that there is need for change from the current method of teaching biology to learner- centered instructional approach such as inquiry method that will enable students carry out experiments within or without the laboratory.

Inquiry method is students - centered approach of teaching and learning that allows students to find out facts themselves with the assistance of the teacher who serves as a facilitator. Inquiry learning is a form of active learning where progress is assessed by how well students develop experimental and analytical skills rather than how much knowledge they possess. According to Hanson (2005) learning becomes more effective and long lasting when learners plan their own questions, analyze and discuss their findings and finally construct their understanding. Hewson (1992) further maintained that inquiry based instruction is not only concerned with the preparation for long life learning but also extends knowledge beyond the classroom doors which enable students to experience events like real scientists. The essence of inquiry is to ask questions that stimulate students to think critically, construct knowledge using scientific processes such as observing, classifying, measuring, inferring, predicting, formulating models, interpreting data, hypothesizing and experimenting which help students to build knowledge and communicate what they have learned. The inquiry teaching method is mostly carried out in the science laboratory where the students are provided with science equipment and materials for experiments (Okoli, 2006).

Laboratory is described as a room or building or a place where experimental studies are carried out. In the laboratory, students are engaged in a human enterprise of examining and explaining natural phenomena in a practical way (Glasson, 2009).  According to Ali (2001) a laboratory is a facility that provides controlled condition for scientific and technological research, experiment and measurement. Ali (2001) stressed that laboratory helps students to discover what they do not know yet and confirm the truth of the knowledge acquired in the classrooms. Laboratories used for scientific experiments and researches take two forms such as indoor and outdoor laboratories. Indoor laboratory is a building or room furnished with different scientific equipment in various fields of science and engineering while Outdoor laboratory is one outside the confirmed building or room such as ponds, forests, riversides and botanical gardens. In the laboratory, students have the opportunity to carry out experiments and other investigative activities.

Laboratory works are activities or investigations that are carried out in the laboratory which provide students the opportunities of becoming more knowledgeable with science practical skills, which includes observation, identification, classifying, hypothesizing, predicting, measuring and experimenting. Nzewi (2008) asserted that laboratory activities can be regarded as a strategy that could be adopted to make the task of teaching more real to the students as opposed to abstract or theoretical presentation of facts, principles and concepts of subject matters. Nzewi (2008) further maintained that practical activities should engage the students in hands-on and minds-on activities, using varieties of instructional materials/equipment to drive the lesson home.

Laboratory activities have played a special and central role in science education for a long time, and science educators believe that engaging students in laboratory activities has many benefits: they stimulate creativity, curiosity and critical thinking, promote students’ engagement with the scientific methods and encourage active learning and problem-solving approach. Laboratory activities also provide opportunities to collect and analyze data and apply mathematical knowledge to support and illustrate concepts, facts and principles (Garnett, 2005; Lunetta, 2008). Laboratory practical works provide a way not only for developing varieties of different practical skills but also developing favourable attitudes, interest, pleasure, enthusiasm, imitation, imagination and cooperation among students

(Nworgu, 2009).

Researchers (Aniodoh, 2001; Babajide, 2010; Cengiz, 2010) have found out that students encounter some problems in laboratory works, such as lack of acquisition of desirable skills (poor observation of specimens, poor identification of specimens, drawing of specimens and poor recording or reporting of practical works). These problems make it difficult for students to understand laboratory practical work and theoretical knowledge acquired during classroom teaching and learning processes. In view of the above mentioned problems faced by students in the laboratories, if the laboratory practical will be reorganized in a proper manner it will promote good teaching and learning processes in the classroom or laboratory. Hence, there is need for the development of appropriate approaches in the laboratory. Nakhleh and Krajcik, (2005) opined that investigative approaches used in carrying out experiments in the laboratory are based upon active learning, such as problembased investigation, inquiry-based investigation, project- based investigation and cooperative investigations. In these approaches students interact with materials and with one another during laboratory practical work. According to Johnson and Johnson (2002) there are different types of interaction that take place in the classroom and laboratory. These are cooperative, collaborative and competitive interactions but for the purpose of this study group and individual mode of interaction in laboratories will be investigated.

Modes of laboratory work are the strategies used by teachers during laboratory activities in order to ensure effective teaching and learning in the laboratory. There are two modes of laboratory work, group and individual laboratory works. These modes of laboratory work maintain an active role and consistent pace of interaction amongst students throughout the laboratory practical period so that students learn what they expect from their teachers.

Group laboratory work is a mode of interaction that exists in the laboratory, where learners work together for accomplishing a certain goal. Like the cooperative learning approach, learners help one another in an academic subject, in small groups formed both in classroom and in non-classroom environments such as the laboratory to accomplish a task. The approach helps the learner to gain more self-confidence and develop their communication, problem- solving and critical thinking abilities and students actively participate in the learning/ teaching processes (Gardner & Gillies, 2006). Students in group interact with one another, share ideas, and seek additional information and decisions about their findings (Kolawale, 2008). Olatoye, Aderogba and Aanu (2011) opined that group laboratory work could help to improve students’ achievement and retention, increase selfesteem, intrinsic motivation and also help students develop more positive attitudes towards learning. It could also help students to acquire practical skills, spirit of socialization, leadership and conflict resolution skills that are basic to productive working teams.

Therefore, from various definitions of different educators on group laboratory work, the researcher defines group laboratory work as a teaching/ learning strategy in which students of different levels of learning ability are grouped, to work cooperatively in small teams, to carry out laboratory practical works in which each member of a team is expected to contribute to the success of the group without reservation.

Individual laboratory work involves only a student and the materials during the process of practical work in the laboratory. In the individual mode of laboratory work whether an individual accomplishes the goal or not has no effect on the other participants.  Individual laboratory work is unlike the group laboratory work, which deals with the students working cooperatively with one another (Johnson & Johnson, 2002). Individual laboratory work is a form of laboratory investigation where contents, instructional materials, and pace of learning are based upon the ability and interest of a learner. Nonetheless the learner can seek help from the classmates wherever there is ambiguity or need for clarification. Kagan (2004) and Johnson and Johnson (1999) were of the view that cooperative and individual learning could enhance students’ academic achievement in sciences. This study seeks to find possible effect of group and individual laboratory work on students’ academic achievement in biology. It could be possible to investigate the gender dimension of using mode of laboratory work on male and female students’ academic achievement in biology.

Gender refers to the roles and responsibilities of men and women that are created in families, societies and cultures. The concept of gender is the expectations held about the characteristics, attitudes and likely behaviour of both men and women (masculinity and femininity) in the society (Ezeh, 2013). There is a general belief among Nigerians that boys are superior to girls in terms of physical build-up, intelligence and reasoning. According to

Okeke (2007) gender and gender stereotyping have brought discrimination in academic achievement which is a matter of great concern to educationists. Adegboye (1998) observed that many parents do not want to spend much money on the education of females as on the education of male due to cultural and social reasons. The school knowingly or unknowingly creates gap in gender activities. For example, grouping of subjects in schools encourages stereotyping in the choice of subjects. The grouping of Food and Nutrition/Technical

Drawing, Physics/Home management compels the females to choose Food and Nutrition and Home management while the males go for Technical Drawing and Physics. Some studies on gender and performance have shown that boys perform better than girls in science related task. Examples include studies by Zirim (2006); Okwo and Otubar (2007) that indicated that science achievement depends on gender while other studies conducted by Nzewi (2010), Okoh, Iwuozor and Obioma (2011), and Ogunleye and Babajide (2011) showed that gender is insignificant in science achievement. Since the findings about gender are inconclusive the researcher is interested in investigating the effect of mode of laboratory work on senior secondary school students’ academic achievement in biology; and also which organizational pattern (group and individual) will influence male or female students’ academic achievement in biology.

Statement of Problem

In Nigeria, students’ achievement in secondary school biology has not been

encouraging. In spite of the desire for technological development, which needs biology education there is persistent poor academic achievement of students in the subject, particularly in practical biology. So many factors can be attributed to students’ poor achievement in biology practical; they include teachers’ use of inappropriate instructional approaches, lack of adequate laboratory facilities, poor organization of laboratory activities, lack of commitment to laboratory work by both teachers and students, partial or total absence of laboratory, lack of qualified biology teachers and mode of laboratory activities that are used in biology laboratory. Studies have shown that teachers use mostly teacher-centred approaches in carrying out laboratory activities. The inappropriate instructional approaches used by Secondary School biology teachers, tend to raise doubts about the possibility of realizing the objectives of biology education in Nigerian secondary schools as stated in the National Policy on Education (Federal Ministry of Education, 2004). Most instructional approaches such as lecture and demonstration used in teaching biology in the classroom or laboratory, promote rote learning and lack of opportunity for students to manipulate materials and reflect on what they do during teaching and learning processes. Students’ interaction during practical activities in the laboratory could play a key role towards concretizing learning. Among all the problems that contribute to students’ poor achievement in practical biology the researcher is interested in the mode of laboratory work and its effects on students’ achievement in biology. The problem of this study stated in question forms: what is the effect of group and individual work on students’ achievement in biology? Is there any difference in academic achievement of male and female students who learning practical biology through group and individual laboratory work?

Purpose of the Study

The main purpose of this study is to investigate the effects of mode of laboratory work on students’ achievement in biology in senior secondary schools. Specifically the study investigated;

  1. the effects of group and individual laboratory work on students’ achievement in biology
  2. the influence of gender on the mean achievement scores of students in biology when they are exposed to group or individual laboratory work
  3. the interaction effect of gender and mode of laboratory activities on students’ mean achievement score in biology

Significance of the Study

 This study has both theoretical and practical significance. Theoretically, this study is anchored on Piaget’s cognitive constructivist learning theory and Vygotsky’s Social constructivist learning theory. Piaget emphasized that students should learn by doing.

Piaget’s cognitive constructivist learning theory is related to the present study which is the effect of mode of laboratory work on students’ achievement in biology, because, laboratory work encourages student’s active engagement in practical activities. In social constructivist theory, Vygotsky emphasizes on learning in a social context which is what group laboratory work is associated with. Vygotsky’s theory is related to the present study which is effect of mode of laboratory work on student’s achievement in biology because it supports the view that in laboratory, students interact with the materials or with one another in the course of practical work. Hence the result of this study will help to validate the theories.

Practically, the following people will benefit from the findings of this study; students, biology teachers and the curriculum experts. The result of the study could enable the students realize the importance of group and individual laboratory work situations in the effort of learning biology concepts. It could also help the students to become knowledgeable in the following areas: communication, problem-solving, self-confidence and critical thinking. These are knowledge they are expected to acquire from practical activities which could lead to students’ improvement on their academic achievement.

To the curriculum experts and science educators, the findings of the study could form a basis for introducing laboratory innovations in teaching at all levels to promote practical based learning in schools and even in our teacher education programmes.

The findings of this study will be of help to science teachers as it will enable them understand the right mode of laboratory work in teaching and to help the students to understand biology concepts with the abilities of carrying out practical work successfully. The teachers will realize that biology concepts are not taught in isolation but should be incorporated into practical work to maximize the achievement.

Scope of the Study

The study is on the effects of mode of laboratory work on students’ achievement in biology in Jalingo Local Government Area of Taraba State. The choice of the area is because of poor achievement of students in biology in the area. The study is delimited to SS1 students in senior secondary schools in the area. The content scope of the study is food substances (such as carbohydrates, proteins, fats and oils and enzymes) under animal nutrition. The choice of this content is because it lends itself to laboratory activities, which is the most important aspect of this study. The content is found in the SS1 biology curriculum (Federal Ministry of Education, 2008).

Research Questions

The following research questions guided this study

  1. What are the mean achievement scores of students exposed to group and individual laboratory work in biology?
  2. What is the influence of gender on the mean achievement scores of students in biology when they are exposed to group or individual laboratory work?

3 What is the interaction effect of gender and mode of laboratory activities on      students’ mean achievement scores in biology?


The following null hypotheses were posed to guide this study and were tested at P<0.05 level of significance

HO1: There is no significant difference in the mean achievement scores of students taught biology using group and those taught using individual laboratory work

HO2: There is no significant difference in the mean achievement scores of male and female students taught biology using group or individual laboratory work

HO3: There is no significant interaction effect of gender and mode of laboratory activity on students’ mean achievement score in biology



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