An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Biology
St Davidís CBS, Artane
Roll number: 60471 F
Date of inspection: 1 May 2007
Date of issue of report: †23 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Biology
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Davidís CBS Artane. 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 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí 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.
The evaluation of Junior Certificate Science and Leaving Certificate Biology at St Davidís CBS commenced with a meeting with the teachers of Science and Biology. Following this meeting, two first year classes, three third year classes, one fifth year class and three sixth year classes were visited.
Science is a core subject at Junior Certificate level in the school. Science is promoted through the provision of experiments and demonstration activities on open day where the importance of science is outlined for prospective first year students. The science team are to be commended for their commitment to promoting the subject.
The time allocated to all Leaving Certificate biology classes and to the majority of Junior Certificate science classes is appropriate. In planning for next yearís timetable, management have agreed to keep in mind the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) guidelines regarding timetabling allocation. Double periods are allocated to all class groups and all double periods are held in a laboratory. This is commendable as it facilitates the investigative practical element of the revised Junior Certificate science syllabus.
The school has five science laboratories and most of the science team benefit from having a laboratory as their base classroom. Access to the laboratories is negotiated informally between the science team. In some of the laboratories the science apparatus is stored in labelled cupboards around the laboratories and it is laudable that lists of contents are displayed on the cupboard doors. This level of organisation is commendable. The laboratories contain a good supply of materials and equipment. Shelving has been added to some of the laboratories in an attempt to alleviate the demand for storage space. All laboratories visited contain an impressive display of charts, key words and student generated posters.
Laboratory chemicals are held in two locked preparation and storage areas. One preparation and storage area is accessible from the corridor while the second is only accessible through one of the laboratories on either side. During the evaluation, management was advised to review the key holder arrangements currently in place for these areas. At present, chemicals are organised on open shelves. It is recommended that appropriate cupboards for the storage of flammable and toxic materials be obtained. It is further recommended that adequate ventilation be provided for the areas where general chemicals are stored.
A range of health and safety equipment was observed, including first aid kits, fire extinguishers, fire blankets, fume cupboards, gas and electricity isolation switches. A list of laboratory safety precautions was displayed in the majority of studentsí notebooks observed. The student and a parent/guardian sign copies of these safety precautions at the beginning of the school year. There is potential to add this contract to the school journal in future. It is commendable that the science team incorporates a lesson on health and safety in the laboratory into their start-of-year plans.
The majority of the science teachers have benefited from opportunities for continuing professional development during national in-service training in the revised biology and science syllabuses. Management is to be commended for its commitment to facilitating this in-service and for its on-going consideration in both identifying and supporting staff training needs. There is scope to put in place a means of formally disseminating information gained at these meetings to the remainder of the science team.
The science teams show good commitment to co-curricular activities in the form of visits to the science departments of Dublin City University (DCU) and Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT). Fieldwork trips have also been organised to the zoo and senior chemistry students have been brought to the Leixlip water treatment plant in Co Kildare. Six teams of students entered for the BT Young Scientist exhibition this year and groups of students have also been brought to view the exhibition.
Science has been promoted through the provision of a crime scene investigation (CSI) Forensic Science day where a group of Australian students worked with 180 first to fifth year science students from the school in the area of physical forensics and focused on solving a crime. One of the science team has also been involved in a Biology Support Services (BSS) action research project to aid revision of the Leaving Certificate biology practical work. All of these activities are to be commended as they foster an interest in science. The teachers involved are to be congratulated for their commitment, without which the students would not benefit from such stimulating experiences.†
The science department is effectively co-ordinated by a head of department. Communication among the science team is effective and takes the form of formal departmental meetings held approximately three times per year. These meetings involve outlining programmes of study, stock control and making other subject-specific arrangements such as text books, review of teaching methods and assessment of student learning. There is also scope to spend some time on analysis of studentsí results in the Certificate Examinations perhaps during the science planning meeting at the start of the school year. Minutes of formal science team meetings were available during the evaluation. This is good practice. Informal meetings also take place between members of the science team on a regular basis.†
Common long term plans were available for both Junior Certificate Science and for Leaving Certificate Biology. These plans were devised collaboratively by the science team and a copy of the plans is retained by each team member. Planning documentation contained a list of topics and practical work planned for each year group. It is recommended that these lists be distributed to students at the beginning of the school year. This would give students a good overview of the course and to encourage them to plan for their own revision.
Long term planning documentation for both Leaving Certificate Biology and Junior Certificate Science made reference to aims and objectives of the courses, the grouping of students, class organisation, planning for students with special educational needs, cross-curricular planning, resources, record keeping and assessment. There is scope to progress the plans by relating them to the learning objectives found in the syllabus documents.
It is recommended that the science department develops a three-year action plan which could address short and long term goals such as the build up of more technological resources and prioritise areas for development and refurbishment within the laboratories.
In the classes observed there was evidence of good short-term planning. Appropriate materials and resources necessary for each lesson had been prepared in advance. This level of preparation contributed to the quality of teaching and learning and this is to be commended. It is laudable that a number of resources have been developed by the science team which include PowerPoint presentations, overhead projector transparencies (OHP), laminated jig-saws and cards. Broadband Internet access is available in all of the classrooms and each laboratory contains a desktop computer. It was reported that management has secured a number of data projectors and it is intended that two data projectors would be available for staff use on each of the three levels of the school building. This investment in information communication technology (ICT) is commendable and the science department is encouraged to use this facility in the development of resources to supplement teaching and learning.
Lessons observed included topics such as the periodic table, the human defence system, photosynthesis, food tests, energy and plant biology. Lessons were delivered in a realistic and practical fashion, highlighting the relevance of what was being presented and discussed to studentsí everyday life. Great efforts were made to encourage students to relate knowledge to prior learning and to assess their own learning. Teachers regularly revised and explained the more difficult concepts that arose over the course of lessons. This approach to the delivery of lesson content contributed to greatly enhanced student learning in each of the observed lessons.
A range of teaching methodologies was employed during the course of lessons observed and these included paired work, group work, board work, OHP transparencies, questioning, ICT, investigative practical work and whole class discussions. These were generally varied throughout the lessons and this was seen to be effective in engaging students and encouraging their attention and participation. This is good practice.
The instruction provided in the lessons observed was both clear and concise. As most lessons visited were revision classes, the science teachers adopted a persuasive approach to the delivery of lesson content which originated in their enthusiasm for the subject and this approach was very effective in gaining studentsí attention and inspiring their contribution to the lessons. Appropriate use was made of past Certificate Examination papers intermingled with practical activities, active learning methodologies and teacher demonstrations. Good use of ICT was observed in a number of lessons. This varied from visually stimulating PowerPoint presentations to the use of downloaded video clips from websites. ICT was also effectively incorporated into a circus of experiments, where a number of different workstations were set up around the laboratory and one of the tasks involved an online multiple choice style quiz. This is excellent practice.
The classes observed had a disciplined atmosphere with a clear code of behaviour. A positive teacher-student rapport was evident throughout the lessons and this contributed to a constructive learning environment. Students were generally attentive, interested and anxious to participate well in the learning processes. Generally, students had a good understanding of the task in hand and displayed good teamwork skills in practical work. In general, there was an appropriate pace to the lessons observed which facilitated student learning. Correct answers were affirmed while incorrect ones were dealt with sensitively. Students displayed a sense of security in seeking clarification or assistance during lessons. Teacher movement around the room during lessons ensured that all students remained on task and provided opportunities for students to seek individual help in a supportive structure. Very good use was made of praise to affirm studentsí efforts.
The science team has developed a number of teaching resources and these were utilised in some of the lessons visited. They included laminated colour-coded cards of the periodic table, the equation for photosynthesis and jigsaws of energy conversions and immunity. Students were observed working in pairs, groups and independently in the lessons visited and overall the variety in lessons provided a stimulating learning environment. Students were encouraged to assess their own learning through peer questioning and brainstorming exercises such as development of mind maps. These were particularly effective as revision exercises.
Interaction with students indicated that they generally had a good understanding of the topics being studied. Good use of questioning was observed, either to individual named students or to the whole class group. Students were encouraged to seek clarification wherever necessary. Most students were willing to engage in discussions and generally were knowledgeable about the lesson content.
The physical environment of the science rooms visited was enhanced by a display of educational posters and student work. This is commendable as displays of student work and photographs in the science laboratories promote a sense of student ownership and student responsibility for the creation of a stimulating learning environment. Of particular note was a photographic display of ducklings hatched in the laboratory where a class of students were rostered for Ďegg turning dutiesí until the ducklings hatched.
Writing and learning homework is assigned where appropriate and students are encouraged to note this in their diaries at the end of class. Homework tasks were checked regularly, usually at the beginning of the next class. Some books showed evidence of annotation and assessment for learning practices. It is suggested that the science team explore assessment for learning (AfL) practices such as comment marking and formative feedback on the NCCA website www.ncca.ie.
Class tests are held regularly for all students, and common tests are administered at Christmas and summer for all year groups. This is good practice. It is recommended that the common tests include a percentage of total marks for the standard of practical notebooks or the completion of an investigation, in line with the revised Junior Certificate science examination Records of student attainment in class tests are recorded in the teacher diary as well as class rolls and records of homeworks completed. This level of record keeping is praiseworthy and provides a good source of information for feedback to parents.
It was noted that an up-to-date record of mandatory Junior Certificate practical write-ups was maintained in the student laboratory notebooks. As this is an important aspect of the revised Junior Certificate Science syllabus that attention given to this exercise is well-justified. Most notebooks observed were of a good standard and the majority showed evidence of checking and annotation which is a good way of encouraging students and giving direction. It is recommended that the science team discuss the development of a follow up system in order to check that students have acted upon teacher corrections added to student notebooks.
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 Science and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.