An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Mathematics
Rockbrook Park School
Edmondstown Road, Rathfarnham, Dublin 16
Roll number: 60321J
Date of inspection: 3 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Mathematics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Rockbrook Park School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Mathematics and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over one day 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 of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Rockbrook Park is an all boys’ school which offers the Junior Certificate, optional Transition Year and Leaving Certificate programmes to its 130 students. An open day is arranged for prospective students and their parents. First-year parents are also invited to an evening meeting during the first school term. The school has approximately ten main feeder primary schools. Prior to entry students sit an assessment, which helps to establish students’ standards and to highlight students with learning-support needs and those who are gifted.
The Mathematics department comprises three Mathematics teachers. The practice of rotating the teaching of levels and programmes amongst Mathematics teachers is commendable as it ensures that all teachers have an opportunity to develop competencies at all levels and that no one person has the responsibility for teaching a particular level or programme. Generally, teachers retain the same class grouping from year to year, which is good practice. On occasion teachers retain a class grouping throughout the junior and senior cycle programmes.
The school operates a forty-three period week and each class period is forty minutes in duration. Time allocated to Mathematics is adequate. In the current year management has increased class periods for second-year students from four to five each week. On occasion some class groupings do not have daily contact with the subject. For example, even though fifth-year and sixth-year class groupings are allocated five class periods, two class periods are timetabled on the same day with none on one day of the week. It is important that students encounter Mathematics on a regular basis to promote continuity in learning. It is therefore recommended that the timetabling of Mathematics should be reviewed with a view to providing daily contact with Mathematics.
There is one mixed-ability class grouping in each of first and second year. In third year, due to the allocation of a second Mathematics teacher, two Mathematics classes are formed. Such commendable practice facilitates students with an opportunity to study either higher or ordinary level in independent class groupings.
Although Transition Year is offered as an optional programme, almost all students choose to follow the programme. Generally one class grouping of ordinary-level students and one class grouping of higher-level students are formed each year in senior cycle. Furthermore, the concurrent timetabling of Mathematics from third year onwards is commended as students have the opportunity to follow a level appropriate to their ability.
Continual professional development of Mathematics teachers is supported by management through the facilitation of teachers to attend relevant inservice. Additionally, management has, in more recent times, paid the subscription for membership of associations such as the Irish Mathematics Teachers Association (IMTA). No specific budget is allocated to Mathematics. It was reported that any reasonable requests for resources are met. Newly appointed teachers to the school are supported throughout their initial year with an induction programme provided by the principal. A monthly meeting between the principal and newly appointed teachers is arranged to discuss, among other things, classroom management. In addition higher diploma students are partnered with a mentor teacher who provides support and guidance throughout their programme of study.
Provision for extra support in Mathematics is made when necessary. Such support has been provided when a student is withdrawn from his base Mathematics classes to receive numeracy support. This is not good practice as it can result in the fragmentation of the learning experience of students. It is therefore recommended that such support should be arranged at a time other than during Mathematics class time.
Student involvement in co-curricular and extra-curricular activities is commendable. Students participate in Mathematics competitions such as those organised by the IMTA and Irish Mathematical Olympiads. The involvement of students in such activities allows students to develop their skills in Mathematics while experiencing Mathematics in a different context and learning situation.
There is ongoing review of many school policies. Approximately every month a half-hour meeting is arranged to discuss the timetabling of upcoming events or discipline issues. Mathematics teachers frequently meet informally throughout the year. However, this year management is introducing two formal meetings for staff with specific emphasis on subject planning. This is good practice as it will provide teachers with an opportunity to collaborate and address issues pertaining to Mathematics.
Currently there is no coordinator of Mathematics. However the most senior member of the department disseminates relevant information. Consideration should be given to Mathematics teachers agreeing a coordinator of the subject on an annual rotational basis so that all teachers have the opportunity to coordinate the subject. To date the Mathematics teachers have not documented a long-term plan for the department. It is recommended that the Mathematics department collaborate to develop a long-term plan. This plan should include an outline of sections of the syllabus at junior and senior cycle, the advised areas of study under each section and the learning outcomes associated with each. Such planning will ensure that all will have the opportunity to discuss and share best practice. Furthermore teachers will have the chance to discuss and document an appropriate range of methodologies and to develop a bank of resources to be retained centrally for use by all involved in the teaching and learning of Mathematics. The plan should help to guide teachers’ day-to-day work and promote continuity ensuring, should a student change levels, that a common plan has been followed.
An example of very good integration of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the teaching and learning of Mathematics was observed. A website developed by a member of the Mathematics department included resources such as PowerPoint presentations on a specific topic, worksheets, links to specific Mathematics sites, access to web pages for specific student class groupings and the development of individual class work for students. Consideration should be given to further planning for the integration of ICT by all and documenting such integration into the long-term plan for Mathematics.
Even though individual teachers have developed their own programmes of study for Transition year Mathematics there is no specific Transition Year Mathematics plan available in the school. Individual plans for Transition Year Mathematics vary and include revision material from the Junior Certificate, elements of the Leaving Certificate syllabus and some non-syllabus related material. It is recommended that the Mathematics department collaborate to develop a common programme of study for Transition Year. Consideration should be given to accessing the support service website www.slss.ie which includes resources and newsletters that outline teaching and learning strategies, interdisciplinary links and curriculum ideas pertaining to Transition Year Mathematics.
Teachers have developed good individual short-term plans for Mathematics as was seen by the prior preparation of material such as handouts and other supplementary materials. Of particular interest was the development of a document which is distributed to students and outlines the programme of work for a term and the specific associated homework. This is good practice as it ensures that all students are aware of their homework should they be absent.
Topics such as trigonometry, integers, tessellations and functions featured in lessons. In general lessons began with the teacher correcting homework from the previous day. Lessons were conducted at an appropriate pace and teachers used time effectively. Terminology used in lessons was appropriate in terms of student understanding and relevance to the topic.
Traditional teaching was the predominant style used in lessons. This involves the teacher demonstrating a technique and then the students practising it by completing exercises from a textbook. To a lesser extent student-centred learning featured in other lessons including the use of computer generated quizzes to consolidate the learning activity in the lesson. Such activities maintain students’ engagement while encouraging students to become independent learners. It is therefore recommended that a variety of methodologies be used in lessons to cater for all students’ learning styles. For example, consideration should be given to group work and investigative work. In this way students have an opportunity to take personal responsibility for their learning and to become more independent learners.
Teachers generally offered a question to the entire class before asking an individual student. Recall questions allowed teachers to identify students’ understanding of topics. Careful questioning identified students’ misconceptions and helped to resolve them. Furthermore there was evidence of teachers skilfully using higher-order questioning to ensure that positive use was made of incorrect answers to develop understanding and to encourage students to contribute. Students were challenged to think for themselves. Such practices are commendable as students are encouraged to take an active role in their learning.
Teachers had good classroom management skills and students were attentive and appropriately behaved in classes. Lessons were conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Teachers had good knowledge of students’ abilities and frequently circulated the classroom to provide assistance and guidance, all of which was done sensitively and discreetly.
The main resource used in lessons was the textbook. However, some teachers had developed their own resources some of which could be accessed on a designated web page. On occasion greater use could have been made of differentiated worksheets to ensure that all students were encouraged to work to the best of their abilities and at an appropriate pace.
There was no evidence of mathematical posters or displays in rooms. To further enhance the learning experience for students it is recommended that mathematical displays are sourced and displayed in classrooms.
In general students demonstrated confidence and capabilities in answering questions put to them during the inspection. Participation in Mathematics at higher level in Junior Certificate is good but fluctuates from year to year at Leaving Certificate. A high proportion of students follow ordinary level in Leaving Certificate. On occasion foundation level is offered when necessary.
The school uses many forms of assessment including class questioning and class assessments at the end of a topic. Three formal examinations take place for non-examination classes in November, February and May while examination classes sit formal assessments in November and ‘mock’ examinations in February. The school issues five progress reports throughout the year, following the above assessments and in October and April. These reports include statements regarding students’ punctuality, conduct and attitude to learning.
Communication with home and school is maintained in a variety of ways. In addition to five progress reports the school issues five newsletters per year. Parent-teacher meeting are arranged for each year grouping. The student journals are also used by students to record homework and by teachers as a means of communication between parents/guardians and the school. Additionally, the school has a unique system of mentoring, which involves allocating a staff member to a number of students. Each student is assigned a mentor who guides a student in academic progress as well as focussing on the individual development of student character. Training for mentors is provided and they meet regularly with students. Mentors meet with parents/guardians of students three times per year.
Homework assigned was appropriate in terms of quantity and relevance to the syllabus. In general, homework copies were well maintained and student work was well presented. Students were encouraged to share in the responsibility of correcting their homework, which is good practice. In general, teachers had developed good practice where students received individual feedback orally or as written commendation in their copies. However, some copies could have more commendations included to provide suggested areas of improvement for students.
Records retained by teachers include assessment records, attendance and details of students’ homework. These records are detailed and very good.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Mathematics and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.