Background of the study
Science has been of labeled as the great instruments nationally and internationally as the wheel of sustainable and socio-economic development as well as for technological advancement of nations. Knowledge of science and technology is therefore a requirement in all countries and needed by all people globally due to numerous challenges that are facing them. The performance of students in science based subjects is closely related to their theoretical and practical knowledge while some are taught in isolation from the process of discovery or the conceptual applications. However, this solely depends on the subject at various classes and also on particular factors within and without the teaching and learning environment (Felder & Nunetta, 2013).
The availability of laboratory equipment, chemicals and materials, laboratory personnel, working conditions in the laboratory and safety measure, substantial recommended textbooks and accurate periods allocated for the teaching of the subjects are needed for effective practical work (Adefunke, 2008). Thus, if equipment and apparatus are available in the laboratory for practical and carefully controlled, then effective teaching and learning of integrated science could be achieved, which will in turn created a scholastically rich, rewarding environment (atmosphere) for the students to learn the basic tools of science (Frank & Sake 2012).
Laboratory work is an integral part of most science courses and offers an environment different in many ways from that of traditional classroom setting. A good laboratory environment promotes students’ curiosity, rewards creativity, encourages a spirit of healthy questioning, avoids dogmatism, and promotes meaningful understanding, where wait-time is essential in promoting thoughtful responses and dialog. Laboratory activities are characteristic features of science teaching at all levels of education (Adane & Adams, 2011). Good and adequate educational facilities like laboratory facilities are needed to be available to students and teachers at all time to enhance excellent academic performance. Effective teaching of Integrated Science is an activity which will bring about the most productive and beneficial learning experience for students and promote their development as learners. Effective teaching of Integrated Science goes beyond just imparting knowledge but it is a purposeful activity carried out by somebody with a specialized knowledge in Integrated Science in a skillful way to enhance cognitive, affective and psychomotor development of a person or group of persons.
They serve as indispensable parts (components) in this regard since origin of the use of laboratory methods in science teaching long time ago (Borrmann, 2008). Nowadays, it is rare to find any science course without a substantial component of laboratory activity in teaching institutions. During such laboratory experiments, students are provided with specimens or work guide (manual) and some sort of equipments which help them to investigate scientific problems in order to understand theories and principles of science subjects (Adane & Adams, 2011). Students have a lot to benefit from practical which may include increasing students’ interest and abilities in science subjects as well as their achievement in science (Pavesic, 2008). Demonstrations by instructors can also be used as an option to support theories and lectures given in class rooms in institutions without adequate facilities to let students do the experiments by themselves (McKee, 2007). However, as stated by Ikeobi (2004), meaningful learning is possible from a given laboratory experiments if the students are given ample opportunities to operate equipments and materials that help them to construct their knowledge of phenomena and related scientific concepts. There are reports that emphasize teaching a science with the help of laboratory experiments to be more enjoyable and stimulating to students than teaching the same subject matter only through lecture (Hofstein, 2004). Similar to other science subjects, teaching Chemistry is also supported by laboratory experiments (practical sessions) (Reid & Shah, 2007). Integrated science practical classes (experiments) are believed to help students in understanding theories and chemical principles which are difficult or abstract. Moreover, they offer several opportunities to students. Some of these opportunities include handling chemicals safely and with confidence, gain hands-on experience in using instruments and apparatus, develop scientific thinking and enthusiasm to chemistry, develop basic manipulative and problem solving skills, gain opportunities to students as investigators of the experimental work, identify chemical hazards and learn to assess and control risks associated with chemicals (Ravishankar & Ladage, 2009).
This would provide an opportunity in identifying the main objectives of the work and in planning and executing it, of identifying the conceptual and practical difficulties encountered, recording and discussing the results and observations and of suggesting practical alterations and improvements (Teixeira-Dias, Pedrosa de Jesus, Neri de Souza & Watts, 2005). The latter, thus, could result in a significant positive impact on a students’ ability to learn both the desired practical skills and also the underlying theory (Akpa, 2005).
There are indications at all levels of education in Nigeria that females are grossly underrepresented in terms of enrolment, participation and achievement in science, technology and Mathematics education (Anaekwu & Nnaka, 2006). The same studies clearly indicate the state of affairs at the secondary level of education in Nigeria that a greater proportion of males enrolled and achieved higher than their female counterparts.
Okeke (1990), reported that boys perform better than girls on physical science questions and high level questions (application, analysis and synthesis) whereas girls do as well as, or better than boys on questions in Biological sciences and lower level (knowledge, recall and comprehension) questions.
The practical activities class involves both an illustrative and investigative function (Akinbobola, 2011). The illustrative function has been emphasized in past science curriculum. Today, it is recognized that a static practical class activites in which the student is told the answers to a series of recipe-type activities is not conducive and stimulating to the spirit of inquiry. Rather, if the student is to gain an understanding of the nature of science as a process of inquiry, he must actively participate in investigations of problems to which he knows no answers. The investigations may or may not lead the learner to correct answers, but in learning to ask relevant questions to seek reliable information, design effective experiences and to interpret data efficiently and honestly, the student will gain an insight into the nature of science. With problems or questions posed as the basis for an investigation, and with no answers given the student is faced with an unknown, and the path is open for a personal discovery (Akinbobola & Afolabi, 2009).
Statement of the problem
Afolabi and Akinbobola (2012) asserted that conducting scientific discovery and oriented practical class in integrated science class requires that students have easy equitable and frequent opportunities to use a wider range of materials, equipment, supplies and other resources for experimentation and direct investigation of phenomena. Therefore, schools must make every attempt to ensure that practical facilities are well equipped and maintained to ensure safe and effective learning environment for integrated science. The proper teaching of science in particular calls for theoretical explanation and demonstrations by the teacher, enriched by questions and answers, as well as practical work by students and this in turns call for a space modification to accommodate all these activities. The practical class can be used for teaching and for practical work and in the absence of services such as water, electricity and source of heat are not readily available, they can be improvised by bringing water in buckets, electricity can be supplied from batteries or portable generators, while heat can be obtained from spirit-lamps or small stoves. Apart from being cheap and cost saving, it helps the conceptual unification of theoretical explanations and practical works. Based on this assertion, it can be deduced that the role of practical activities in learning of integrated science is vital and crucial to the academic achievement of students in this subject.
It is in the light of this that the researcher intends to investigate the effect of practical activities on the relative academic performance of students in junior secondary school certificate examination in Ikere local government area of Ekiti State.