An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Physics
Sandford Road, Dublin 6
Roll number: 60530S
Date of inspection: 9 and 10 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Physics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Gonzaga College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science and Physics 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 of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Science is a core subject at Gonzaga College. Classes are of mixed ability with a maximum of fifteen students in line with school policy. There are six class groups in each year of junior cycle. There is good continuity of teaching in that teachers normally retain the same class group throughout junior cycle.
Physics, Chemistry and Biology are each offered for ten week modules in the compulsory Transition Year (TY) programme. Students are allocated two single periods per week which take place in a laboratory. Consideration should be given to allocating a double period to TY science subjects to enable sufficient time to complete investigative practical work.
There is good science provision at senior cycle with Physics, Chemistry and Biology being offered to students. A free choice of senior cycle subjects is given to students and option blocks are formed to meet their wishes. The college has a strong tradition in Science and the uptake at senior cycle is very high. Currently, there are two class groups in Physics and three in Chemistry and Biology. Students are well supported in making informed choices regarding Leaving Certificate subjects.
Time allocation to Science at junior cycle is satisfactory. However, it is recommended that in line with syllabus recommendations all class groups should be timetabled for a double period. This is to enable specified investigative practical work to be carried out effectively. Time allocation to Physics in some cases is short of syllabus recommendations at four single lesson periods per week. Therefore, it is recommended that the allocation of time to Physics be reviewed and that a double period be allocated to Physics so that required mandatory practical work can be completed successfully.
There are seven teachers in the science department at Gonzaga College. In addition, the college has employed a laboratory technician. Teachers are facilitated to attend in-service courses and many have attended courses provided by the Junior Science Support Service (JSSS) and the Second Level Support Service (SLSS). It is commendable that teachers have provided and have attended in-school training in information and communication technology (ICT). The school pays membership to a professional organisation for science teachers and provides funding for any post-graduate study undertaken.
The college has three laboratories. There are plans to refurbish two of the existing laboratories and to build two new laboratories as part of the college’s major building plans. Each laboratory has a well organised preparation and storage room. Laboratories are spacious and bright and are enhanced with relevant posters and charts, and with evidence of students’ work.
The college’s health and safety statement is reviewed biannually and was last reviewed in 2005. Science teachers were consulted in the process and there is a section on hazards in the science laboratories. The laboratories visited have appropriate safety equipment in place. However, it is recommended that chemical storage facilities be upgraded in line with best practice.
Broadband is available in all science laboratories and laptops and data-projectors are available for use around the school. There is a permanent data-projector installed in the physics laboratory. Modern data logging equipment is available. However, it is recommended that consideration is given to upgrading ICT facilities in the science laboratories and that teachers consider further training in specific uses of ICT in science teaching, for example, modular courses on the use of ICT in the classroom are available from the SLSS.
Gonzaga College students have participated in many extra-curricular and out-of-school activities, which include student participation in the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, Science Writers competition, attendance at science-related lectures, guest speakers during Science Week and participation in the college’s astronomy club.
Science teachers meet once at the beginning of the year. Any subject department planning conducted throughout the remainder of the year is mainly on an informal basis. There is no coordinator of Science. The process of setting up and managing laboratory equipment, ordering new materials and managing the budget is handled by the laboratory technician. In addition the laboratory technician helps set up, dismantle and store away laboratory equipment after practical lessons. There is ongoing consultation between individual teachers and the laboratory technician. This process works well. However, notwithstanding the effectiveness of this system, the need for a science planning coordinator and subject department meetings remains. Therefore, it is recommended that a science coordinator be nominated and that there is provision for regular minuted planning meetings in line with best practice. Collaborative consultation between science teachers is necessary so that the broader aspects of science planning can be discussed and it is strongly encouraged in light of the school’s planned future developments in the science area.
A common programme of work has been drawn up which lists the agreed schedule for each year of junior cycle science based on chapter numbers of an agreed textbook. It is recommended that a science plan be drawn up to include: subject aims and objectives; time allocation and timetabling; support for students; teaching methodologies; resources; health and safety; homework and assessment policy; reporting procedures, continuous professional development and sharing of best practice. This science plan should be developed incrementally over time. The physics plan is commendable and includes details on aims, objectives and resources and lists comprehensively the sequential content of the course. However, it should be redrafted and should contain some elements of the above. Consideration should be given to inviting the School Development Planning Initiative to host a day in the school on subject department planning.
There is a written plan for TY physics which aspires to provide students with a sample of Leaving Certificate Physics and aims to impart a core of knowledge and skills to students. The course is practical, however, it is recommended that it be revised to include further applied aspects of Physics, project work and research skills. When rewriting this programme reference should be made to the Department of Education and Science guidelines on writing the TY plan.
Very good individual planning was in evidence in advance of lessons observed. ICT and practical equipment were set up in advance. Lesson content was well thought out and planned which led to very good overall successful learning outcomes.
Lessons had a clear structure. Many lessons began with recall of material from the previous lesson, which was linked to the new material being presented. Many lessons were summarised at their conclusion which had the positive effect of reinforcing the learning experience. The quality of teaching and learning was very high, students were motivated, encouraged and sufficiently challenged to reach their full potential. A very strong atmosphere of learning resulted from the good rapport and the constant affirmation and support for students. In many instances, students received individual support. Students were valued and responded positively to questions and challenges posed. The work of the teachers in this regard is highly commended.
Teachers made every effort to create a positive and stimulating learning environment. Methodologies were varied and well planned. ICT was used very effectively in some lessons. For example, during a revision lesson on heat and temperature, students were delivered a very well-designed presentation with continuous discussion around the concepts and investigations themed on each slide. There were constant links to everyday applications of Physics. Material was presented with clarity and students were assigned previous relevant examination questions as an assignment. A copy of the presentation was given to students and this very good practice consolidated the learning experience.
Demonstrations interspersed with student activities formed part of some lessons. In one lesson observed, students were learning about spectra and a spectrometer was demonstrated with a good discussion about its adjustments. Portable spectrometers were distributed and students were guided expertly on their uses and applications with the aid of a colourful handout sourced on the internet. Relevant problems on wavelength were discussed and assigned with the aid of the whiteboard. The varied methodologies worked very well together in delivering the aim of the lesson and this is highly commended.
In most instances, the level and pace of teaching was tailored to suit the cohort of students. For example, students were investigating force and pressure. A very good investigative approach was adopted where no prior knowledge was assumed. Units were explained and demonstrated in an innovative way and interventions were invited from students until all students clearly understood the concepts being taught. The textbook was used appropriately as a reference book in this instance. Students gained a sense of wonder about Science and readily volunteered to take part in many demonstrations. This is an example of very good practice.
During practical lessons small groups of students worked collaboratively and each group received continuous and comprehensive help and support. A sense of student motivation was created and a good environment for learning and teaching prevailed. There was a clear emphasis on health and safety during the investigative practical work observed. Students wore laboratory coats, safety glasses and rubber gloves and washed their hands with anti-bacterial soap. At the conclusion of the experiment a special bin for hazardous waste was distributed. This is very good and commendable practice.
Revision for forthcoming examinations formed part of many lessons observed, which was appropriate to the time of the year. In some cases previous examination papers were used as an aid to revision. Students were requested to answer specific questions; this was sometimes followed by a short class discussion. It is recommended that the whiteboard or overhead projector be used as an aid to revision especially when equations or mathematical problems are discussed. In other instances the whiteboard was used very effectively, for example to draw effective themed spider diagrams on fungi and bacteria. On other occasions, work was assigned to students while teachers circulated giving individual help and support. Worksheets were distributed in many lessons. Where this is not the case, it is recommended that a themed worksheet be distributed to consolidate material learned during the lesson.
There was effective use of questioning in all lessons observed. Specific questions were asked about previously learned material and more open-ended probing questions were used to stimulate student interest. It is recommended that more questions in some lessons are directed at individuals in an effort to increase participation. Many questions were asked by the students and these questions were answered skilfully and in some cases were extended to the whole class for general discussion.
The uptake of higher-level Science and Physics is very good, for example all students take Science at higher lever and the vast majority of students take Physics at higher level. Work completed in copybooks and notebooks examined in the course of the evaluation was generally of a high standard. Students exhibited good confidence in answering questions on their work during the lessons observed and student outcomes in terms of skills and knowledge as observed are very good.
The college has developed a homework policy for first year and second year classes. Homework is generally completed to a good standard and was assigned at the conclusion of many lessons observed. There is ongoing assessment and revision for all classes by means of short class tests, assigned worksheets and class questioning.
Christmas and summer formal examinations take place for all class groups from first to sixth year while TY students sit three modular examinations. Third year and sixth year students sit pre-examinations in March. These examinations are normally corrected internally but on occasions are corrected externally.
A parent teacher meeting is held annually for each year group with the exception of TY. Reports are sent to parents following each examination. The college journal is used as a means of ongoing communication with parents.
Records of practical investigations are generally maintained to a high standard. Teachers generally annotate student notebooks with useful comments and follow-up on suggested corrections. This is very good practice. Where this is not the case, and in an effort to improve the quality of some notebooks, it is recommended that students be given annotated feedback, that notebooks be followed up on corrections and that credit is given in college examinations for practical work completed and recorded.
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 Physics, together with the principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.