An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Biology
Saint Joseph’s CBS
Fairview, Dublin 3
Roll number: 60390F
Date of inspection: 6 February 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Joseph’s CBS, Fairview. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science and Biology 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 the opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
The Sciences are well supported by management in St Joseph’s CBS, Fairview. Science facilities include two bright, modern, well-equipped laboratories each with separate lockable storage rooms and preparation areas. Chemicals are housed in appropriate lockable cabinets. One well-stocked preparation room houses an extensive collection of audio-visual aids while in the store room chemicals are arranged on colour coded shelves.
Science is studied by all students to Junior Certificate level. Science classes are generally mixed ability and management strives to retain the same teacher through first, second and third year Science classes which is praiseworthy practice. All three Science subjects are offered at senior cycle and uptake dictates as to whether the subject is made available for that particular year. Currently, Biology and Chemistry are on the Leaving Certificate programme. Transition Year is compulsory in the school and includes modules of Chemistry, Biology, Food Science and two Physics investigations, a programme which serves to promote the Sciences in the school. Science could be further promoted by the development of a notice board or poster area for Science careers or the expansion of the Science section in the library. In addition, management are encouraged to review the programmes currently available to students at senior cycle and explore, for example, the potential of the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme.
Timetable allocation is in line with the syllabus requirements and includes an appropriate number of double periods to facilitate investigative practical work that is now an integral part of the syllabus. It is also commendable that all science classes are held in a laboratory.
The science team show good commitment to co- and extra-curricular activities. During Science Week students from the school visit the local primary school to demonstrate a range of science activities and experiments which is laudable practice. During Open Day science students, under supervision, demonstrate experiments in the school laboratories. Teachers have organised educational trips to Bull Island Conservation centre, the Celtic Voyager marine research ship, the National History Museum and Dublin Zoo. Transition Year students have attended courses in Bolton Street Institute of Technology, Dublin City University and University College Dublin. In Transition Year a ‘Safe Food for Life’ course is taught through distance liaison with the Environmental Health Officers Association, students are externally assessed and certificates are awarded for their achievements. Students are also encouraged to participate in the ISTA Science quizzes. These activities are to be commended and the teachers involved are to be congratulated for their commitment, without which the students would not benefit from such stimulating experiences.
Opportunities for continuing professional development during national in-service training in the revised Junior Certificate Science and Leaving Certificate Biology syllabuses have been availed of and management are to be commended for their commitment to facilitating this in-service.
Provision for Information and Communications Technology (ICT) includes one Personal Computer and data projector which is shared between the two laboratories. Internet access is available in the ICT suite to which access is available through negotiation with other staff members. Broadband internet access is planned and it is recommended that the science team would develop this as a further resource which can be used to enhance the teaching and learning in Science and Biology lessons. Resources and ongoing support can be accessed on www.nbsstralee.ie and www.juniorscience.ie
Long term planning for Junior Certificate Science and Leaving Certificate Biology was extensive and included topics to be completed in each year, aims and objectives, teaching methodologies, grouping of pupils, student access to the subject, class organisation, health and safety requirements, homework and assessment plans, planning for special educational needs and co-and cross-curricular planning. A common long-term plan for Junior Certificate Science and a common end of year test for each year group was also included, which is laudable practice.
Short term planning was very good and included lesson plans, pre-prepared materials and resources, overhead projector (OHP) transparencies, worksheets and diagrams on the data projector. Internet sites and periodicals such as Astronomy Ireland, Spin, Science and National Geographic are also used in planning where appropriate. This attention to planning served to enhance the teaching and learning in each lesson. Diagrams and resource files for the data projector are shared between the Science team and it is suggested that the Science teachers consider the development of a similar bank of resources for the classroom, to include worksheets and OHP transparencies, which can be added to as they are developed.
Co-ordination and communication among the science team is effective and takes the form of formal meetings on a term basis and regular informal meetings. Departmental meetings were used to discuss common year plans for Junior Certificate Science, individual planning at senior cycle, ordering of equipment, development of common end-of-year examinations (where appropriate) and student progress. It is also suggested that the science team use this time to develop a long-term plan for resource management, to ensure resources are kept up to date and to plan for any resources which may require large financial outlay by management in the medium term.
During this evaluation four classes were visited. These included two junior cycle Science class and a double class of senior cycle Biology. Lessons observed included Solutions, DNA and the Skeleton. The classes visited displayed a range of abilities and successfully differentiated teaching was observed which included some one-to-one attention, directed questioning, spelling and writing key words on the whiteboard. In addition, communication between the Science Department and the special needs coordinator and classroom assistant occurs on a regular basis which is praiseworthy practice.
Lessons observed were presented in a coherent and confident manner and the purpose of each lesson was clearly established from the outset. Students were aware of exactly what was expected of them and what the intended outcome of the lesson was. The atmosphere in the classes was warm and pleasant, high expectations in terms of participation and behaviour were set, and the lessons were taught with enthusiasm.
Homework was corrected at the beginning of the lesson and allocated at the end. This structured approach is praiseworthy. Good use was made of a range of teaching methodologies such as groupwork, paired work, boardwork, OHP transparencies, teacher demonstrations, investigative practical work and whole class discussions. Commendably, teaching methodologies were generally varied within the lessons observed and this served to engage students’ attention. In some classes visited very effective use was made of visual stimuli. One lesson made good use of detailed diagrams of DNA on the data projector and students worked from a corresponding photocopied worksheet. This lesson then progressed to the extraction of DNA from a range of plant materials where students worked purposefully and competently with an appropriate level of teacher intervention. Students displayed a mature attitude and had due regard for health and safety issues. Adequate time was allowed for plenary sessions at the beginning and end of the practical class in order to prepare students for their work and afterwards to review the lesson as a whole. Students were encouraged to write up the experiment in their own words which is an excellent way of engaging students in their own learning. Good attention was paid to the language of science during the class and student laboratory notebooks indicate that records of prescribed investigations are well presented. The results within had been gathered by the students themselves and were supported by clear conclusions.
Science was made relevant and linked to students’ everyday experiences during most of the lessons observed. One lesson made good use of everyday household substances to show examples of solute, solvent and solution. This emphasis on making Science relevant to students’ lives is praiseworthy. In another lesson use was made of the skeleton, models of the joints in the body as well as diagrams in the test book to locate and name the different bones and joints.
Discipline was good and a positive rapport existed between students and their teacher. Question- and-answer sessions were built into the dialogue of all lessons observed and a focus was placed on building upon students’ existing knowledge of a topic. The level of student response to this strategy was very encouraging and indicated a willingness to participate well in lessons. Best practice was observed in using this methodology where the teacher moved throughout the classroom and the process of questioning was pointed and served to draw out student opinions, affirm correct answers and clarify incorrect ones. The quality of students’ questions and answers indicated a good level of knowledge in the topic being taught.
A range of assessment techniques is in evidence in St Joseph’s CBS. Class tests are held regularly for all students, usually when sections of the syllabus have been completed. Records of pupil attainment in class tests are recorded in the teacher diary and this provides a great source of information for feedback to parents, in assisting students in making subject choices at senior level and on what level of examination paper to choose in State examinations.
Homework was checked and annotated regularly, which is good practice. Records of homework are kept in the students’ journals and parents are encouraged to sign them on a weekly basis. A record of mandatory Junior Certificate practical write-ups was evidenced in the student laboratory books, an important aspect of the revised Junior Certificate Science syllabus. It was also observed that a notice board in the laboratory was dedicated to recording the types and numbers of experiments completed by students in the class. This level of organisation is commendable. Exercise books observed had been marked and constructive feedback was provided to students indicating where the quality of written answers could be improved. While students worked on an assigned task they received individual feedback from their teacher. It is suggested that these good practices and the wider use of Assessment for Learning methods be further explored by the science teaching team. Information relating to Assessment for Learning is available on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) website, www.ncca.ie and teachers are encouraged to access this site.
Regular contact with parents is encouraged in St Joseph’s CBS and takes the form of parent-teacher meetings, reports, comments in student journals as well as regular informal meetings when appropriate. Certificate examination students are issued reports in November and after the “mock” examinations, while non-certificate examination students’ reports are issued at Christmas and summer. The science team should allocate marks for practical work in Christmas and summer tests where appropriate, as a means of indicating and promoting the value of this element of the learning process.
Some good use of questioning as a form of assessment was observed. Questions ranged from the factual, testing recall, to questions of a higher order that were more challenging and encouraged students to think at a deeper level. Questions were frequently directed to individual students, which is a good method of challenging and motivating students. Such questioning can be used to help reinforce learning and can also assist the teacher with formative evaluation of student progress and achievement. The level of student engagement was generally good and students were, for the most part, enthusiastic. The use of directed questions will also help to maintain this very positive aspect of the observed classroom interaction even during more theoretical classes.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development 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 principal and with the teachers of Science and Biology at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.