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1.1 Background of the Study

Science has been regarded as the bed rock on which modern day technological breakthrough is built. Nowadays countries all over the world especially the developing ones like Nigeria, are striving hard to develop technologically and scientifically, since the world is turning scientific and all proper functioning of lives depend greatly on science. Science is a dynamic human activity concerned with understanding the workings of our world. This understanding helps man to know more about the universe. Without the application of science, it would have been difficult for man to explore the other planets of the universe. Science comprises the basic disciplines such as physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics. Many investigations have shown that secondary school students are exhibiting dwindling interest in science (Ogunleye, 2002). Besides, physics as one of the science subjects remains one of the most difficult subjects in the school curriculum according to the Nigeria Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC); Isola (2010). Studies have revealed that the academic performance of Nigerian students in ordinary level physics was generally and consistently poor over the years. Physics is an important science subject that makes immense academic demands on the students in it’s learning.

Academic performance has been described as the scholastic standing of a student at a given moment. This scholastic standing could be explained in terms of the grades obtained in a course or groups of courses. Mallory (2004), commented on this scholastic standing and argued that performance is a measure of output and that the main outputs in education are expressed in terms of learning, that is, changes in knowledge, skills and attitudes of individuals as a result of their experiences within the school’s system. Academic performance is regarded as a student’s performance in an examination as being depended on his cumulative grade point average (Cambridge University Reporter, 2003). Student’s success is generally judged by examination performance. On the other hands, poor academic performance according to Aremu (2000), is a performance that is adjudged by the examinee and some other significant as falling below an expected standard. The interpretation of this expected standard is better appreciated from the perpetual cognitive ability of the evaluator of the performance.

The factors affecting the academic performance of students in senior secondary physics include; students background and classroom environment, nature of the subject, teacher variable and students variables. These student variables include student’s attitude towards physics, student’s interest in physics, gender inequality, students study habit and students mathematics knowledge according to Akanbi (2003), Asikhia (2010), Akinola (2006), and Macmillan (2012).

Student’s knowledge of mathematics can be classified into three categories; conceptual understanding, procedural knowledge, and problem solving (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2003). Students demonstrate conceptual understanding when they provide evidence that they can recognize, label and generate examples of concepts, use and interrelate models, diagrams, manipulative and varied representation of concepts; identify and apply principles, know and apply facts and definitions; compare and contrast, and integrate related concepts and principles; recognize, interpret and apply the signs, symbols and terms used to represent concepts, conceptual understanding reflects a students ability to reason in settings involving the careful application of concepts definition, relations or representations of either.

Students demonstrate procedural knowledge when they select and apply appropriate procedures correctly; verify the correctness of a procedure using concrete models or symbolic methods; or extend or modify procedures to deal with factors inherent in problem settings. Procedural knowledge encompasses the abilities to read and produce graphs and tables, execute geometric constructions, and perform non computational skills such as rounding and ordering. Procedural knowledge is often reflected in a student’s ability to connect an algorithmic process with a given problem situation, to employ that algorithm correctly, and to communicate the results of the algorithm in the context of the problem setting.

Problem solving in mathematics is demonstrated by students when they recognize and formulate problems, determine the consistency of the data; use strategies, data, models; generate, extend and modify procedures; use reasoning in new settings; and judge the reasonableness and correctness of solutions. Problem solving situations require students to connect all their mathematical knowledge of concepts, procedures, reasoning, and communication skills to solve problems.

Mathematics forms a strong foundation for the study of physics. Mathematics serves as a symbolic expression in physics to show the structure of relationship between different factors (Terigue, 2005). Similarly, Jia (2013) asserts that symbolic expression allows learners to have a better understanding of physics contents and improve their procedural knowledge to inter-relate various symbols during solving of physics problems.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

Physics is one of the science subjects taught at the senior secondary level of Nigerian educational system. Its importance as a discipline cannot be overemphasized especially in the area of science and technology. Almost all aspect of life science both living and non-living have something to do with physics, ranging from engineering to mathematics, biology and chemistry. Physics is one of the pre-requisite subjects for the study of engineering technology, medical and other applied sciences courses in the university. Physics as a science course is perceived generally to be very interesting, vast, mathematical and experimental. Inspite of the enormous role that physics provides for national development, physics results in most certified examinations like the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) and National Examination Council (NECO) have not been satisfactory. In a situation where the students will be blamed for the poor performance, emphasis is only placed on the student’s cognitive or intellectual ability. Little or no attention is given to the fact that the student’s mathematical ability can affect their performance in physics. Based on this assertion, this study intends to find out the effect of good knowledge of mathematics on students performance in physics.

1.3 Aim and objectives of study

The main aim of the research work is to assess the effect of good knowledge of mathematics on students’ performance in physics. Other specific objectives of the study are:

1. To examine the effect of conceptual understanding in mathematics on the performance of students in physics in senior secondary schools.

2. To examine the effect of procedural knowledge in mathematics on the performance of students in physics in senior secondary schools.

3. To examine the effect of problem solving ability in mathematics on the performance of students in physics in senior secondary schools.

1.4 Research Questions

The following research questions guided the study.

1) To what extent does mathematics knowledge affect the academic performance of students in physics in senior secondary schools in Nigeria?

2) To what extent does gender affect the performance of senior secondary school physics students with high and low mathematics knowledge in Nigeria?

1.5 Research Hypotheses

Hypothesis 1

H0: There is no significant relationship between mathematics knowledge and the performance of senior secondary school physics students in Nigeria.

Hypothesis 2

H0: There is no significant difference in the performance of physics students with high mathematics knowledge based on gender.

Hypothesis 3

H0: There is no significant difference between students in physics based on variation in mathematics knowledge

1.6 Significance of the Study

This study is important to all stakeholders in science education as it provides a better understanding on the relationship between students’ variables in several ways. The result of the study will provide an empirical basis for development and improvement of student’s performance in physics which are:

1. The information obtained will unveil the effect of mathematical ability on the performance in physics of senior secondary school students.

2. The result of this study will be help provide a basis for curriculum planners to review and make necessary modifications or improvement in instructional methods and materials at the senior secondary school level.

1.7 Delimitation of the Study

This study is to investigate the effect of mathematics knowledge only on the performance of students in physics in public secondary schools only in Nigeria.

1.8 Limitation of the Study

The limitations experienced by the researcher in the course of this study are:

1. Limited time to carry out the research study

2. Financial constraint as the study involved a huge amount of money from cost of developing and producing the instruments to transportation logistics.

3. Selection and participation of students in most schools.

1.9 Definition of Terms

Mathematics knowledge: Mathematics knowledge is the level of aptitude whether learnt or perceived as natural capability to process numerical data and conclude a mathematical calculation based on that data.

Performance: The standard to which one does something – the degree of success of one’s actions.

Physics: Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through space and time, along with related concepts such as energy and force


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