The Effects Of Problem-Solving And Discussion Teaching Methods On Students’ Achievement Across Ability Levels In Genetics


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The study investigated the effects of problem-solving and discussion teaching methods on students’ achievement across ability levels in genetics. The study adopted a pretest-posttest quasi-experimental design with non-equivalent control group. The sample for the study consisted of 122 senior secondary III biology students. Purposive sampling was used to select four schools in Gombe education zone. The instrument used for the study is the Genetics Achievement Test (GAT) designed by the researcher. Section A of the instrument contained 20 multiple-choice items, section B contained 2 essay questions all for the measurement of students’ achievement in genetics. Four research questions and four hypotheses were formulated to guide the study. The hypotheses were tested at 0.05 level of significance. The data collected were analyzed using mean and standard deviation and ANCOVA statistical tools. The results showed that ability level of students significantly influence achievement in genetics. The high ability students outperformed their medium and low ability students. Gender was not a significant factor. The interaction effect of gender and method was not statistically significant. There was a significant difference in the mean achievement scores of students taught genetics using problem-solving and those taught using discussion teaching methods. Finally it was recommended that teachers of biology should adopt the use of problem-solving teaching method. This will go a long way in improving problem-solving skills of students no matter their ability level.



Background of the Study
Science has been regarded as the bedrock upon which the modern day technological breakthrough is built. Countries all over the world, especially the developing ones like Nigeria, are striving hard to develop technologically and scientifically. Nwagbo in Usman (2010) explained science as an intellectual activity carried out by humans, designed to discover information about the natural world in which we live and to discover the ways in which this information can be organized to benefit human race. According to Feynman (2011), science has become such an indispensable tool that no nation, developed or developing, wishing to progress in socio-economic sphere will afford to relegate the learning of science in schools to the background. The Federal Republic of Nigeria (FRN) in its National Policy on Education (FME, 2004:19) identified the goals of science education to include:
 Acquisition of knowledge, skills, inquiry and rational mind for conduct of good life.
 Produce scientist for national development
 Service studies in technology and the cause of technological advancement
 Understanding of the physical world, the forms and conduct of life and
 Provide knowledge and understanding of the complexity of the physical world, the forms and conduct of life.
Science comprises the basic disciplines such as biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics. The Federal Ministry of Education (FME, 2013) identified biology among the core-science subjects offered at the Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) level., Ramalingam, (2003) defined biology as one of the branches of science that involves the study of living things ranging from microscopic cellular molecules to the biosphere which encompasses the earth surface.
Importance of biology as highlighted by Maduabum (2009:13) is stated as follows:
 helping individuals to understand the parts of his/her body and their functions,
 enabling one to question superstition due to sustained interest arising from comprehension of the cause of events,
 understanding and appreciating life,
 bringing into focus the need to maintain good health,
 promoting the individual for choice of careers,
 to inculcate in the individual scientific skills and attitudes in his approach to personal and societal problem,
 impart factual knowledge and stimulate scientific reflective thinking so as to produce a better informed individual.
In spite of these enormous importance that biology provides, biology results in most certified examinations like, Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) conducted by both the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) and the National Examinations Council (NECO) have not been satisfactory in Nigeria (Ashmore, Frater & Casey 1989).
Parent and government are in total agreement that their huge investment on education is not yielding the desired dividend and that students’ achievement still remains poor (Asika, 2009). Asika further explain that teachers also complained of this low achievement at both internal and external examinations Appendix A & B give summary of Gombe state students’ achievement in biology at WAEC and NECO from 2009-2013. Government, teachers, parents and the general public are greatly worried about students’ poor performance and their ability levels on companies to achievement. Most state Ministries of Education have taken additional steps in the recent times on school comparison to measure progress in solving the national crisis. The education arm of the government and educators recently have shown concern about how well the students score in science (Gear & Hamson in Adeyemo 2010).
The observed decline in students performance in SSCE Biology may not be unrelated to their perception of difficulties in comprehending certain areas of biology which are regarded as complex and abstract e.g. genetics. As a result, the students tend to dislike certain topics in biology hence the tendency to avoid such areas during examinations (Tamarin, 2007). This fact is supported by Amoebi (2007), who worked on the identification of difficult concepts in senior secondary biology curriculum in Anambra State. The researcher stressed that among the biology topics teachers and students find difficult were nervous system and hormonal coordination, basic ecology, genetics, evolution and energy transfer.
The report of the chief examiner, WAEC (2012 – 2013) also indicated poor performance in biology with particular reference to genetics questions which were poorly attempted by many students. The poor performance of the candidates in the subject was attributed to the following weaknesses which were recurrent:

  • Candidate’s showed poor understanding of the demands of the question
  • Poor understanding of certain genetic terms e.g. pure-breading, nucleotide, hybrid, dominant and recessive characters.
  • Poor performance in questions in genetics and drawing of poor genetic diagrams.
    Poor knowledge of the application of genetics in marriage counseling and agriculture.
    This consistent poor achievement of students in biology shows that majority of the students who enroll for biology in public examination graduate without grasping the fundamentals of the subject. Research reports (Agba, 2004) have shown that most teachers prefer the use of conventional teaching methods in curriculum delivery. This invariably leads to poor achievement particularly in biology. It is being advocated that teachers should use varieties of innovative teaching methods such as problem-solving in delivering biology lessons to serve as intervention, Efe and Efe (2011).
    Despite the emphasis on innovative approach to the teaching of science in general and biology in particular for acquisition of science process and problem-solving skills, biology is still taught by traditional methods (Agba, 2004). The poor methods of teaching and learning of biology constitute a problem in the learners’ acquisition of functional knowledge, science process skills and development of ability to solve problem.
    In the solving of this problem , education seek more reliable and effective methods of instruction for students, so as to produce in learner skills that will enable them to compete successfully in technological and scientific dominated society. In describing a new vision for teacher educator, Long (1991) suggest that teachers will need to be flexible, dynamic, thoughtful and able to work with change. He further suggested the hallmark of competent teachers will be the ability to reflect on teaching strategies as to meet the needs of their students. These innovative strategies have not been employed when compared with the traditional method preponderantly employed by science teachers in Nigeria (Owolabi, 2006). Owolabi further reiterated that the state of biology teaching in our schools has consistently been of concern as teachers could not properly apply this innovative teaching strategy in some areas in biology.
    Genetics which is the focus of this study is the branch of biological science that studies the process or mechanism of heredity. It focuses on establishing the scientific basis for understanding of how characteristics or traits are being transferred from parents to their offspring from one generation to another. The scientific understanding of genetics principles had also lead to the application of genetics in industry. For instance, in modern times genetic engineering is used to improve the quality of crops and domestic animals (Tamarin 2007). Another interesting application of genetics to solve problems is when deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is used in crime detection and establishing of paternity where there is dispute.
    In genetics, students learn certain aspects of gene and their mode of transmission from generation to generation. Such knowledge should help students to understand problems of genetic nature rather than relying on superstition and other mystical explanations. Students also learn accurate scientific ways of explaining the genetic defects that may be found in their families and communities. The teaching of science in general and biology in particular in school enable students to acquire broad knowledge, skills and attitudes that would equip them to solve their personal and societal problems as they develop into adults. Thus the business of school is to guide youngsters to develop competencies for problem solving in the environment. The different subjects which they are taught in the school are intended to equip them with different kinds of knowledge, skills and dispositions for problem recognition, identification and solving within the environment. It is therefore important to investigate the effects of problem-solving teaching method on students’ achievement in genetics.
    Problem-solving competencies are the knowledge, skills and general disposition or attitudes which individuals need, to be able to identify and tackle observed or perceived problems in the environment with a view to finding solution to them. An individual with the requisite knowledge, skills and disposition to identify and solve a problem is said to be competent in that area of socio-economic life (Smith 1991). A number of problem-solving models has been proposed in the learning of different aspect of science. Such include Mettes, Pilot and Rossink, (1981). Salvaratnam and Frazer, (1982), Polya (1957), systematic approach to Problem Solving (SAP), to mention a few. The present study will use the polya problem solving model due to it relevance to the problem at hand.
    Problem solving is described as formulating new answers, going beyond the simple application of previously learned rules to create a solution (Woolfolk, 1995). Problem solving is an investigative task whereby the solver explores the solution path to reach a goal from given information (Dhillon, 1998). Bolton and Ross (1997) explain it as an intellectually demanding activity of central importance in any science. All the sciences, both pure and applied, are centrally concerned with developing and systematizing knowledge useful for solving various kinds of problems. The basic problem solving process is a linear, hierarchical process. Each step is a result of the previous step and a precursor to the next step. The application of problem solving, involves the use of “stage models”. Stage models are simplified lists of stages and steps used in general problem solving. The specific instructional technique and procedures used in the design.The implementation of a stage model of a problem-solving instruction varies from one context to the next.
    Polya’s prescription for solving problems consists of four steps:
    i. understanding the problem (recognizing what is asked for) example of approaches for doing so: asking oneself, ‘What am I looking for?” or “What information is given in the problem?”
    ii. Devising a plan for solving the problem (responding to what is asked for) example approaches for doing so: asking yourself, “Do I know a similar problems?”, “Can I restate the problem?”
    iii. Carrying out the problem (developing the result of the response)
    iv. Looking Back (checking, What does the result tell me?).
    Students are not the same especially when we find out the rate at which facts and principles in science are being estimated. This is to say that, there is disparity in the ability to perform specific tasks. According to Adesoji (2008) all aspect of science could be said to be problem solving and students have varying ability when they are confronted with problems to solve. It is the view of Salami (2013) that problem solving in science depends on student’s cognitive ability level. Several Studies within the Nigerian environment (Salami, 2013 & Niaz’s, 1996) have shown that learners are qualitatively different in their ability levels and in learning problems, [(Usua, 2000). Studies, (Adesoji, 1992)] have also shown that method of teaching (instruction) can influence the performance of students. Iroegbu, (1998) and Adesoji (2008) observed that problem solving instruction was effective in teaching students of different ability levels. The problem solving instructional strategy either as a teaching strategy by the teacher or a set-learning technique by students has been found to be useful in teaching and learning, (Adesoji, 1995 and Agba, 2004). It is therefore necessary to find out whether the teacher-directed problem-solving teaching method would have any effect on students’ achievement in genetics taking into cognizance their different ability levels.
    Cognitive ability as it relate to academic achievement refers to biology-based differences in the make up of the human brain that affect the capacity of an individual to benefit from instruction, Ghavami (2003). Ghavami explained that cognitive ability influences the rate, quantity and quality of new learning. Ability also affects how well new learning is converted to long term memory and how well the new learning can be applied to new situations. Ghavami further explained that cognitive ability places constraints on the amount and type of learning that can be attained in a given time frame.
    Bello and Abimbola (2010) observed that the Nigerian educational system, classrooms are generally composed of students of different ability levels. Hence, any innovation in instructional strategy must consider the influence of students’ ability level. Bello and Abimbola pointed out to the need for every class to be considered as a mixed ability class and should be treated as such. Despite the fact that researchers attribute the poor achievement of students in science to teaching methods and ability level of the students, other science educators are of the view that gender is one of the determining factors of poor achievement in science.
    Gender is one of the factors that might affect students’ achievement in genetic problem solving. Gender is defined by Bassow (1991) as a psychological term describing behaviour and attributes expected of individuals on the basis of being born either a male or a female. Keller (1991) writing on the embrassive nature of gender observed that, it is a cultural construct developed by society to distinguish the roles, behaviours, mental and emotional characteristics between male and female. Dike and Abimbola (2010) asserted that gender is obvious from birth and children are socialized very early into appropriate sex-typed-occupations. Hence gender differential valuation of male and female has been viewed as an integral part of the socialization process and the development of the adult male and female personalities.
    Allele Williams (1993) pursuit that gender stereotypes hamper the development of the personality and leads to social inequality, due to gender stereotyping, the efforts of the girls to achieve excellence in the subjects perceived as male subjects are reduced. They can excuse their low performance in science subjects on the grounds that such subjects are not meant for girls. The boys who see subjects such as mathematics and chemistry as male subjects will make every efforts and work hard to achieve excellence in those areas so that they will not be regarded as weaklings.
    Writing on the influence of gender on sciences and technology education, Changeiywo (2002) affirmed that science and technology is a social cultural product, the researcher reiterated that the socialization of both male and female in the society can have profound effects on their perception and participation in science oriented courses. It could also be that socialization of boys and girls could affect their acquisition of problem-solving skills in science and genetics in particular. Thus, this study seeks to investigate the effects of gender on students’ achievement in genetics when taught using problem solving and discussion teaching methods.
    Statement of the Problem
    The yearning for quality and effective instruction delivery has been a long standing objective of science education. The emerging concern for the poor achievement of students in school science and its resultant consequence on the production and development of future scientist, engineers and technologies had led to the search for instructional strategies that promote effective and improved science learning. Consequently, science instruction has become a focus of research for two or more decades. Science knowledge is vast; its scope in each discipline is on the increase. Science educators have come to realize that trying to teach science as a list of facts to be memorized rather than understood is a futile exercise.
    It was observed that there is a dearth of empirical focusing on instructional strategies that can enhance teaching and learning of concepts in science. Academic achievement of students in science has been persistently low, biology inclusive WAEC Examiners’ reports indicate that students are not favourably disposed towards the concepts of genetics. The report identified drawing of poor genetics diagrams, poor understanding of genetics concepts and poor performance on questions related to genetics as candidate’s weakness in biology, invariably leading to their poor achievement in the subject. The need to redress this alarming academic problem necessitated exploring the effect of problem solving teaching method and discussion method on students’ achievement across ability level in genetics.
    Purpose of the Study
    The primary purpose of this study is to investigate the effect of problem-solving and discussion teaching methods on students’ achievement in genetics. Specifically, the study intends to ascertain the:
  1. effects of problem-solving and discussion teaching methods on achievement of students in genetics.
  2. effects of problem-solving and discussion teaching methods on achievement of students in genetics across ability levels, and
  3. the influence of gender on students’ achievement in genetics when taught using problem solving and discussion teaching methods.
  4. The interaction effect of gender and teaching method on achievement of student in genetics.
    Significance of the Study
    This study is built on the framework that the findings will have both practical and theoretical significance. The study will benefit teachers, students’ curriculum planners and educational administrators. The study might be deemed theoretically significant because it will provide insights into the current existing theories which could influence problem solving. In particular, Gestats’ and Gagner’s theory of hierarchical learning Gestalts’ theory of problem solving explained that problem solving occurs with a flash of insight. During insight, problem solvers devise a way of representing the problem that enables solution. The result of this study will strengthen the tenets of these theories and shall help to expand the body of knowledge in the area of students’ achievement in genetics problem solving.
    The findings of the study would enable biology teachers to identify ability levels of their students. The identification of the ability levels will enable the teachers to structure teaching for effective learning, better classroom management and appreciate problems militating against problem solving among the students. The findings could help identify the extent and types of skills students need for problem solving. The benefit to students is that it will help them to develop problem solving skills.
    Finally curriculum planners would utilize the information from the findings of the study in curriculum planning. The information could help the curriculum planners to determine the adequacy of problem-solving aspect of senior secondary biology curriculum.
    Scope of the Study
    The study was carried out in Gombe education zone of Gombe state. The zone was be used on the fact that literature search by the researcher revealed that no such study has been carried out in this area. Senior secondary school class three students (SS 3) will be used in the study. The choice of the population was based on the fact that the state and the zone in particular is educational less developed as reflected on the students’ WAEC and NECO achievement in biology in the background of the study. The problem investigated in this study was restricted to basic genetics concepts covering topics found in the biology curriculum. The sub-sections of genetics to be covered in this research study are as follows:
  • Transmission and expression of characters in organism.
  • Chromosomes: the basis of heredity
  • Probability in genetics
  • Application of the principle of heredity in agriculture and medicine.
    The study will also be limited to the effects of problem-solving instructional strategy and discussion method on students’ achievement across ability levels.
    Research Questions
    The following research questions guided the study.
  1. Is there a difference in the mean achievement scores of students taught genetics using problem-solving teaching method and those taught using discussion method.
  2. Is there a difference in the mean achievement scores of students taught genetic using problem-solving teaching method and those taught using discussion method across ability levels.
  3. Is there a difference in the mean achievement scores of male and female students of different ability levels taught genetics using problem-solving teaching method and those taught using discussion method.
  4. Is there interaction effect of gender and teaching methods on students achievement in genetics.
    The following hypotheses were tested at 0.05 level of significance.
    Ho1: There is no statistically significant difference in the mean achievement scores of students taught genetics using problem-solving teaching method and those taught using discussion method.
    Ho2: There is no statistically significant difference in the mean achievement scores of students taught genetics using problem solving instruction and those taught using discussion method across ability levels.
    Ho3: There is no statistically significance difference in the mean achievement scores of male and female students taught genetics using problem solving and discussion teaching methods
    Ho4: There is no statistically significant interaction of gender and teaching methods on students achievement in genetics.

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