An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physics and Science
Clonkeen Road, Blackrock, County Dublin
Roll number: 60092U
Date of inspection: 27 April 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Clonkeen College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Physics and Science and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of these subjects in the school. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Science is a core subject in Clonkeen College. The third-year cohort is currently following the old Science syllabus while the first and second-year groups are doing the revised syllabus. The school chose not to adopt the revised syllabus initially due to a lack of available resources. There are three class groups in first year, four in second year and three in third year. Numbers of students in first year and third year are high. There was concern expressed in a previous Subject Inspection Report (October 2003), regarding the numbers of students in Science classes. This was addressed with the current second-year group and will be addressed with the incoming first years, whereby four class groups will be created. School management are commended for addressing this issue. It is recommended that this undertaking to moderate class size in Science be implemented by school management in the forthcoming school year. Science classes are of mixed ability. Uptake of higher-level Science is good.
The time allocation to Science is satisfactory. Junior cycle classes have one double and two single class periods. There is a lot of pressure on the three Science laboratories and access for double periods is not always possible with for example second-year classes gaining access for just three out of every four double periods due to blocking of Science lessons. The access problem is compounded by the considerable laboratory usage by the senior cycle Science teachers. The school has been approved for a new extension incorporating three new Science laboratories with the conversion of the old laboratories to specialist rooms for other disciplines. Science teachers expressed their desire to have four Science laboratories in order to alleviate the current issues of access. It is recommended that consideration be given to reorganising the school timetable in order to improve access to the laboratories for double periods. Teachers should reconsider laboratory allocation in an effort to improve access.
The vast majority of students choose the Transition Year programme (TYP). There is a ten-week module in Science incorporating aspects of Physics, Chemistry and Biology. This module is offered for one double and two single class periods per week. There is scope for further development of Science in Transition Year. It is recommended that in consultation with the TYP co-ordinator consideration be given to extending the Science programme with subject specialist teachers each teaching a module. There is scope for development of project work in Transition Year Science.
Physics, Chemistry and Biology are offered at senior cycle. The uptake of Physics and Biology is good with numbers choosing Chemistry somewhat lower. Higher-level uptake in Physics is good. The time allocation to Physics is satisfactory with one double and three single class periods per week.
There are four teachers in the Science department in the school. They keep themselves updated and upskilled with the revised syllabus by attending the junior Science in-service programme. Some teachers are involved in a website development course and the ‘Infinity Project’ organised for the TYP by Dublin City University.
The school is still in the process of stocking the Science laboratories from the Science grant allocation. Each laboratory has been fitted with gas and electrical cut-off switches, health and safety equipment and a hot water supply. A fume-cupboard has been fitted in the Chemistry laboratory and a storage room has been added to the Physics laboratory. In addition the school health and safety statement has been updated in March 2006. Much of the laboratory remedial work has been carried out in light of the recommendations made in the Subject Inspection Report (October 2003). School management and Science teachers are highly commended in this regard.
Teacher-based Information and Communications Technology (ICT) facilities in the laboratories are very good. There is a networked computer and ceiling mounted data-projector in each laboratory. Broadband facilities are available throughout the school. Science teachers have accumulated shared ICT resources and are commended in this regard.
Subject planning has been initiated in the current year. Science teachers have already had five planning meetings. These meetings are minuted using a standard template and the minutes are made available to school management. This is very good practice and is commended. Topics discussed included resources, mandatory experiments, the Science Subject Inspection Report (October 2003), IT and the sequencing of teaching activities. A common Science plan was drawn up. This is highly commended. This includes aims of the programme and a common detailed listing of topics to be covered during each year of junior cycle. Resources required are detailed for each section and particular emphasis is paid to the mandatory practical work. In addition a Science TYP programme has been agreed.
It is recommended that this very good practice be built on to develop the Science plan further to include items such as assessment policy, homework, uptake of senior subjects, Science promotional activities, extra-curricular work, timetabling of classes, access to the laboratories, materials and resources, best practice, agreed learning outcomes, curricular provision and plans for development of Science in the TYP.
There is further evidence of common planning including the setting of common summer first-year examinations. The work of the teachers in this regard is highly commended.
There is no specific budget for Science. Resources are provided on a needs basis. Responsibility for ordering materials lies with one of the Science teachers and this duty is part of the post structure. Teachers are commended for maintaining the laboratories.
It is recommended that in order to streamline the planning of Science that a Science co-ordinator be appointed on an annual rotating basis. An agreed list of duties should be drawn up as part of the planning process. Typical duties may include; acting as convenor and chairperson of subject department meetings, minute taking and submission of minutes to the principal, distribution of subject related material, review of the booklist, supervision of budgets and maintenance of equipment stock records.
There was good preparation and advance planning of the lessons observed during the course of the visit. Teaching and learning were enhanced as materials were ready in advance and handouts had been prepared and ready for distribution. The work of the teachers in this regard is highly commended.
Students were actively encouraged to participate in all lessons. In many cases students took responsibility for their own learning.
Various methodologies were used in many lessons. Some lessons took place in a laboratory where ICT facilities were available. Good use of the data-projector and computer was in evidence. For example a PowerPoint presentation was used effectively as an aid to revise material previously taught. In addition the overhead projector and whiteboard were used effectively in some lessons. Key concepts were highlighted and learning was enhanced. There was scope in some lessons for greater variation of teaching methodologies. It is recommended that more widespread use be made of worksheets during lessons so that students get the opportunity to consolidate their learning during the lessons.
It is recommended that students be consulted regarding common difficulties and that examples addressing these problems be demonstrated on the board or overhead projector. In many cases this could be enhanced by making laboratory apparatus available for investigation. Notes and homework exercises were distributed at the conclusion of some lessons. This is commended.
Very effective use was made of class questioning in all lessons to revise material learned and to introduce new material. Students who answered correctly were affirmed. Specific questions were asked about previously learned material and more open-ended questions were used to stimulate interest and to link the content of the lesson to students’ everyday experiences. Knowledge was built up by the expert use of probing questions and this is very commendable. Many questions were asked by the students and these were answered skilfully and in some cases were let out to the whole class for general discussion. Teachers were sensitive to the individual needs of students. Students were generally addressed by name during question and answer sessions. An atmosphere of mutual respect existed.
Practical demonstrations formed part of some lessons observed. There was an example where plants and plant processes were under discussion. There were very clear demonstrations in conjunction with comprehensive explanations of the material being taught. Motivation was high and participation levels were very good. Good practice in the use of a control experiment was emphasised.
In some lessons students were revising for the certificate examinations. They worked diligently on previous examination questions. Marking schemes were distributed as an aid to correction. They took ownership of their own work. A good atmosphere prevailed.
There was collaborative co-operation and constant affirmation of work well done during the lessons observed. Students were praised and affirmed and they responded positively with enthusiasm for their work. A sense of motivation existed and a good environment for learning and teaching was created.
Some examples of students’ work were in evidence in the classrooms and laboratories visited. It is recommended that the practice of displaying students’ work be extended across the Science department.
Students sit formal examinations at Christmas and summer. In addition third and sixth-year students have ‘mock’ examinations. Science teachers hold many class tests normally at the end of a topic or on completion of a textbook chapter. In particular it is commendable that common summer examinations are given to first-year Science students.
There is ongoing assessment and revision by means of class questioning. Students were generally confident at answering questions on their work during the lessons observed.
Reports are sent to parents following the formal examinations. The reports indicate not just the mark and grade but also in many cases an indication of the effort, homework and behaviour of the student. Parent-teacher meetings are held annually for each year group.
The practical notebooks observed were generally of good standard and annotated in some instances with affirmation of good work completed. It is recommended that this practice be extended across the Science department. In addition it is recommended that notebook assignments be followed up so that suggested corrections are actually completed. Credit should be given by teachers in school examinations for practical work completed and recorded. This practice would help to improve the quality of practical work being presented and it would encourage students to have all the required investigations written up.
A year head and tutor system exists and it is commendable that each student is met individually at least once per year. There is regular monitoring of attendance. Good learning support is provided to students who need it. Parents are consulted if necessary regarding problems that may arise. Each student keeps a journal which acts as a log of the student’s achievements over the year and as a means of communication with parents. It is useful in monitoring students who are underachieving. In some cases the student journal could be used more effectively.
Homework was assigned in many lessons observed. In many cases it consisted of completion of a worksheet, a textbook exercise or undertaking examination questions. Assignment of homework was used effectively to build on lesson content and as a means of revision.
Students from the school take part in many co-curricular activities including field trips and attendance at events hosted by third-level institutions. The school has had the distinction of winning the Young Scientists’ Competition in the past. It is recommended that a dedicated Science notice board be put in place to disseminate information regarding extra-curricular activities to students and to promote Science generally in the school.
Student outcomes in terms of knowledge and skills were good. Students in their interactions with the inspector demonstrated a good level of knowledge and responded with confidence. Student responses demonstrated not only an understanding of the lesson content but also a striving towards improvement.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
· The teachers of Science and Physics in Clonkeen College are committed to their work.
· Good planning is shown in the development of subject planning, the co-operative approach to issues and in the work of individual teachers.
· The lessons observed were in general well planned with a clear structure and delivered at a pace appropriate to the students.
· Assessment of students was carried out on an on-going basis both formally and informally.
· The school provides a caring and supportive learning environment.
· There is good whole school support for Science and Physics. This can be seen in the fact that all students take Science for the Junior Certificate, there is a Science module in Transition Year and Physics, Chemistry and Biology are offered to Leaving Certificate students.
· Teachers are encouraged and facilitated in attending inservice.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following recommendations are made:
· The undertaking to moderate class size in Science should be implemented by school management in the forthcoming school year.
· Consideration should be given to reorganising the school timetable in order to improve access to the laboratories for double periods. Teachers should reconsider laboratory allocation in an effort to improve access.
· In consultation with the TYP co-ordinator consideration should be given to extending the TYP Science programme with perhaps subject specialist teachers each teaching a module in order to increase the scope of project work in Transition Year.
· The Science plan should be further developed.
· A Science co-ordinator should be appointed on an annual rotating basis.
· There should be more widespread use of worksheets during lessons. Students should be consulted regarding common difficulties and examples addressing this need should be demonstrated. This practice should be enhanced by making laboratory apparatus available for investigation by students.
· The practice of displaying students’ work should be extended across the Science department.
· The practice of annotation of practical notebooks should be extended across the Science department. The notebook assignments should be followed up so that suggested corrections are actually completed. Credit should be given by teachers in school examinations for practical work completed and recorded.
· A dedicated Science notice board should be put in place to disseminate information regarding extra-curricular activities to students and to promote Science generally in the school.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and with the teachers of Physics and Science at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.