An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

 

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of Science and Biology

REPORT

 

 

St Kilian’s Deutsche Schule

Clonskeagh, Dublin 14

Roll number: 60630W

 

 

Date of inspection: 6 March 2007

Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007

 

 

 

This Subject Inspection report

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

Planning and Preparation

Teaching and Learning

Assessment

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

 

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Biology

 

This Subject Inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Kilian’s Deutsche Schule.  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 the subjects 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.

 

 

 

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

 

St Kilian’s Deutsche Schule is a fee-paying primary and secondary school situated on the Eurocampus in Clonskeagh, Dublin. The school shares facilities and a Junior Certificate programme with the Lycée Français d’Irlande. Class groups for junior Science, therefore, are made up of a mixture of students, mainly comprising students from St Kilian’s Deutsche Schule as well as some students from the Lycée Français. All classes are taught in the English language and the curriculum comprises the Junior Certificate, the Transition Year (TY) programme and the Leaving Certificate.

 

Provision for the science subjects in St Kilian’s is excellent. Science is a core subject for Junior Certificate and three science subjects; Biology, Physics and Chemistry are available for Leaving Certificate. Further support for the sciences is provided in the school’s compulsory TY programme; during which students take a module in each of the three senior sciences. This allows students to sample each subject at senior cycle before making choices for Leaving Certificate. The uptake of the science subjects at senior cycle is very high in this school with highest numbers choosing Biology. In general, two class groups of Biology, one class group of Chemistry and one class group of Physics are timetabled for Leaving Certificate every year.

 

All class groups are arranged on a mixed-ability basis. In general, class groups retain the same teacher as they progress through junior and senior cycle and this is good practice. Class size for the science subjects is set at a maximum of twenty-four students. Class size can fluctuate, however, as international students and exchange students often arrive to the school during the school year.

 

The time allocated for the science subjects is very good and meets syllabus requirements. All biology class groups are scheduled to have five class periods per week including two double periods. All science class groups are scheduled to have four class periods per week including one double period. All lessons with double periods take place in one of the laboratories.

 

There are four science teachers. Some teachers are members of the Irish Science Teachers Association. Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is strongly supported by management in the school and teachers are facilitated in attending inservice training. Due to changes in staffing, however, some teachers were not able to avail of inservice training in the revised science and biology syllabuses. While the revised science and biology syllabuses are being fully and effectively implemented in the school, it is recommended that teachers would make contact with the Biology Support Service (BSS) and the Junior Science Support Service (JSSS) in order to network with other teachers in their locality as a means of personal CPD, to share ideas, and to engage in professional dialogue around the specific subject.

 

There are three modern laboratories, with preparation rooms, dedicated to Biology, Chemistry and Physics along the science corridor of the school. Each laboratory is also used for junior Science. In addition, an adjacent science resource room with ten computers is used for teaching small groups and TY groups and for the storage of shared teaching and learning resources. This resource room is an excellent facility, the full use of which is only now being realised. The science facilities are very well-maintained with practical work on-going throughout the school day. They provide a stimulating learning environment with many colourful up-to-date charts and an array of student project work on display. This is highly commended.

 

Teaching resources present in the laboratories include one portable computer with data projector, audio-visual equipment and overhead projectors. A stock of useful video and DVD material is available in the science resource room. It is planned to install an interactive white board in one of the laboratories. Senior management intends to monitor its usefulness in facilitating teaching and learning. It is also planned over the next three years to install fixed Information and Communication Technology (ICT) equipment in each of the three laboratories. In order to maximise the potential of such equipment, it is recommended that the existing range of ICT applications should be developed over the next few years. The websites of the BSS and the JSSS are particularly useful sources in this regard. It would be useful if all of the computers in the science department could be networked so as to enhance access to shared files and electronic resources as they are added. Furthermore, it is recommenced that the existing datalogging equipment would be utilised in an integrated way for some of the practical investigations and experiments in Science and Biology.

 

Good attention is paid to matters of health and safety. Proper safety equipment and safety signage are present and there are emergency shut off valves for the gas system. Chemicals are stored according to health and safety guidelines in a locked chemical store. Procedures for fire and chemical spillages have been developed. The school’s health and safety statement is reviewed annually and the science teachers often make an input in this review. One teacher acts as a health and safety officer and this is rotated annually. The science department has a clear disciplinary structure and code of behaviour in the laboratory. Safety rules are discussed with students at the start of each year and a copy of the rules must be signed by both student and parent. Students demonstrated safe laboratory conduct during practical work.

 

 

Planning and Preparation

 

A collaborative attitude is taken to the development of science and this is highly commended. Provision for collaborative planning processes is good. Formal meetings are scheduled for the science subject department on two occasions per year. A specific aim and an agenda are set for each meeting and the outcome of the meeting is conveyed to senior management. These are all elements of best practice. In addition, teachers try to meet informally at least once per term. Teachers also make good efforts to pass on resources to each other throughout the school year. The role of co-ordinator is undertaken by one of the science teachers and it is intended to rotate this role each year to share responsibility fairly.

 

The overall aim for the teaching of the sciences within the school is to “introduce the children to the fascinating adventure of knowledge, guiding them from their first days to an ability of personal judgement.” This aim is linked to the school’s mission statement which includes “our task is to educate young people to use reason with proficiency, encouraging them to ask the why of everything, and the how of everything.” These are valid and worthy aims. Evidence gathered during the inspection shows very good success in achieving these aims. Specific examples of this include the following: it is the policy of the science department that students learn science by discovery with an emphasis on investigative science and this was found to be true in the Science and Biology lessons visited; an open and communicative methodology was used during all lessons encouraging students to express their existing knowledge and to discuss their observations; co-curricular activities, such as the appraisal of contemporary film productions, were used to encourage students to be critically discerning and to generate ethical values. Both school management and the science department are to be highly commended for the approach taken in this regard.

 

A highly commendable, detailed and well-thought-out plan for science has been developed. The plan includes provision for a range of issues that are specific to the school including details of the science department’s policies on classroom organisation, text books, homework and assessment. The plan details agreements that have been reached on promoting equality, safety and ICT in the sciences. Of particular significance is the policy on investigative science, stating that students will be taught “to find out” rather than “to prove that” so as to stimulate an interest in and enjoyment of science. The plan includes action plans and long-term goals to ensure development is achieved. This is best practice. Examples of some of the action plans include ensuring students have up-to-date folders for Coursework A, continued development of resource boxes for junior Science and the development of the science resource room. It is recommended that a realistic timeframe would be indicated to fulfil the action plans proposed. It is also recommended that planning for students with special educational needs would be developed in all science subjects using the expertise and advice of existing staff with experience in this area. This item should be placed on the agenda for science meetings from time to time to ensure on-going development.

 

A large planning folder accompanies the planning documents and this contains numerous science assessments, syllabus details, laboratory safety rules, health and safety details, budgets, order forms for re-stocking of materials, guidelines and templates for Coursework B and minutes of meetings.

 

Planning also includes agreed schedules of work for each year group. The schedules of work are written in terms of learning outcomes and this is commended. The schedules of work are well structured, allowing time for revision. There was strong evidence that students are progressing at an appropriate pace with the schedule in each class visited. There was also evidence that notes are made in the planning documents as teachers progress through the course and this is good practice as it will inform planning for the coming year. A common agreed schedule of work has been agreed for junior Science. Consequently common end of year tests are held for each class group and this ensures consistency of practice and the assessment of standards across each class group in any given year.

 

Planning for resource provision is also very good. A wide and varied range of instruments, such as handouts, overhead transparencies and assessment materials to support teaching and learning in the sciences has been developed. These are kept in individual planning folders and efforts are made to keep copies of these in shared planning folders in the science resource room. Teachers are making very good use of the available resources in everyday teaching and learning. A range of video and DVD material is also available in the resource area. With the addition of data projectors to laboratories, teachers are moving towards the enhancement of available ICT resources and the conversion of existing resources to electronic format.

 

Planning for laboratory provision is excellent. Financial support for the purchase of consumable materials and resources is provided through an annual budget. The storage and preparation areas are well organised. A system of resource boxes is in use for some of the prescribed student practicals and this level of organisation is commended as it ensures immediate access to necessary resources by teachers.

 

The TY Science plan is a working document in development and details the four science modules; Biology, Physics, Chemistry and a module in the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition. The purpose of this module is to encourage each student to do a science project for the event. It is suggested that where students do not successfully gain entry to the exhibition that the projects would be displayed in some other forum, for example, the Sci Fest at Tallaght Institute of Technology. The staff has recently received inservice training in TY programme development and hope to revise the TY Science plan accordingly. The plan should include details of teaching and learning methods for each topic being explored.

 

Lesson preparation was thorough. Lessons were planned so as to provide maximum opportunities for student involvement and varied learning approaches. This is highly commended.

 

 

Teaching and Learning

 

Students were found to be vibrant, confident, respectful and expressive. Students clearly enjoy being in this school and their science studies. A positive, secure and effective learning environment was evident in each lesson visited. A student-centred approach was taken in all lessons observed with the teacher acting as facilitator of learning. This was achieved through the application of skilful teaching strategies and also through thorough preparation for each lesson.

 

The teaching of Science and Biology in this school is characterised by varied methods, active student learning and communicative lessons. An excellent range of learning opportunities was provided for the students in each topic. Use was made of a wide variety of resources to support teaching and learning. The resources used were of good quality, were clear in the way they presented the topic and were supportive to the learner. They included use of laminated flash cards, video, the white board, Powerpoint presentations, charts, models, overhead transparencies, handouts and laboratory equipment. Where available, some ICT applications were seamlessly integrated into many lessons.

 

Students were given clear instructions for all activities, including practical work. They listened attentively at all times and were aware of exactly what was expected of them and of the intended purpose of the activity. Students remained focused throughout their lessons. Teachers were affirmative of their students and constantly circulated the room giving attention to each student during the lesson and providing feedback directly to the learner.

 

Skilful questioning strategies were used to ascertain students’ existing knowledge of a topic and to encourage them to express their understanding. References and links to everyday life experiences of science were utilised in all lessons facilitating the collective building of concepts around the topic by the class group. Excellent use was made of the board providing a template for student note taking. There were some excellent examples where new words were noted on the white board and phonetically spelled and repeatedly pronounced for emphasis.

 

The overarching aim of science education in this school is having a positive influence on the way students learn science. Students were found to be curious and constantly striving for answers. Science teachers are successfully developing their students’ value skills through engaging in both contemporary and ethical issues and particularly by encouraging students to have a point of view on a topic. Lessons often broke into plenary discussion sessions during which all opinions and contributions were taken on board and the topic was allowed to develop. This takes particularly skilful teaching and a mature attitude among the student body both of which were evident. While teachers were always accepting of student contributions they demonstrated an obvious firmness in terms of classroom management thereby controlling the lesson at all times.

 

Innovative ways of varying the learning experience for the student were also constantly being utilised. For example a first-year class group was being taken to the computer laboratory to conduct research into the properties of a particular element from the periodic table and they were challenged to then construct a Super Hero poster depicting the characteristics of that element. This led to a sense of excitement as students were creatively predicting how to best represent their given element as a Super Hero. Strategies such as these are highly commended.

 

The investigative approach to teaching Science was successfully embraced demonstrating that the revised science syllabus is being effectively implemented in this school. Students demonstrated excellent practical work skills and worked comfortably in their groups communicating effectively and sharing responsibilities. Laboratory records were in the main comprehensively written up with a good template in use by the school and they were generally well monitored by the teacher, although this was recommended in some cases. Best practice was found where the teacher had indicated for the student those parts of their laboratory reports that needed attention and development. It was found, however, that some students do not have the full set of Coursework A laboratory reports completed. This has arisen because some students arrived into the school during the school year having completed different topics in Science to the Junior Certificate class groups. Teachers are well aware of this issue and have suggested some ways of overcoming this, particularly among the third-year groups who will shortly have to collate and complete all of Coursework A for returns to the Department of Education and Science. It is recommended that the science department would discuss this issue at their next meeting and devise a solution that is acceptable to all teachers of junior Science.

 

Student copies contained notes that were made out by the students themselves to summarise the lesson and this is a good strategy for supporting learning. Often student copies contained cut-out diagrams from handouts and these were labelled and often colour coded to assist learning. Copies contained a mix of notes and homework and students kept folders for worksheets.

 

Excellent opportunities are provided for co-curricular activities in the sciences. These include a focus on the Young Scientist and Technology exhibition, celebration of Science Week, inviting guest speakers to the school, visits to Dublin Zoo, to W5 in Belfast, to local third-level institutions and to the local Airfield city farm for an ecology day. All junior cycle students participate in a science poster competition.

 

Students were able to accurately recall previously learned topics and to speak with confidence when questioned on a range of topics by the inspector. Overall students of this school were found to be achieving to a very high standard and this is a direct outcome of both the high expectations from teachers and the implementation of effective teaching strategies.

 

 

Assessment

 

A comprehensive and continuous system of assessment is implemented in St. Kilian’s. The system is to be highly commended. It includes the assessment of both class work and written work. Both class work and written work make up a portion of the final grade conferred in the school reports. The system of continuous assessment is applied in order to maintain student focus throughout the school year and to reward ongoing work.

 

Class work includes the allocation of homework, oral participation in class, short tests of less than half a class period duration and project work. In particular in this school, homework is frequently assigned and students note this daily in their journals. Student copies contained evidence of a considerable amount of work completed. Student copy work was at all times neatly presented with good attention to detail. It is considered best practice by the school to mark and correct homework on an individual basis and it was found that this was being implemented. There was clear evidence in student copies of monitoring by teachers with much positive affirmation indicated in writing thereby rewarding student effort. Class work assessment practices are highly commended.

 

Written work includes the administration of class tests papers called Klassenarbetten, at least four of which must be administered each year for both Science and Biology. These papers are to help students to prepare for the demands made upon them in the Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate and Sprachdiplom exams. Klassenarbetten are marked by teachers in accordance with the State Examination Commission’s marking schemes. Common end-of-year Klassenarbetten are administered to all class groups in the same year and this is also good practice as it ensures consistency across the school and comparability of standards between class groups.

 

As Science in Transition Year is modular it is not set specific exams. Assessment practices and criteria for the evaluation of student projects for the TY science modules should be included in the TY Science Plan.

 

Two written reports are sent to parents each year. The January school report covers student achievement since the beginning of the school year. The June school report covers the whole year, with an emphasis on the second half and especially on the end-of-year examination in its written work component. Every year group in the school has an annual parent-teacher meeting.

 

 

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation of Science and Biology:

 

 

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 Biology and with the principal and deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.