An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science
Crumlin Road, Dublin 12
Roll number: 60800V
Date of inspection: 2 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
This Subject Inspection Report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto College, Crumlin. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Junior Certificate Science 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 the 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.
The evaluation of Junior Certificate Science at Loreto College, Crumlin Road, Dublin 12, was carried out in one day. It commenced with a meeting with the teachers of Science. At this meeting, the objectives and procedures of the evaluation were explained. Following this, a double first-year Science class, a single second-year Science class and a double third-year Science class were observed.
Junior Certificate Science is a core subject for first-year students. On entering second year, students must choose between Science and Home Economics as Junior Certificate subjects. In the past two years, a small majority of students have chosen Home Economics. There is a maximum class size of 24 students at Junior Certificate level. First-year Science classes are allocated three class periods each week, in the form of one double period and one single period. This increases to five periods, one double and three single periods, for second year-students and four periods, in the form of two doubles, for third-year students. This is in line with syllabus requirements.
Some significant changes are under consideration at present in the manner in which Science is managed and supported. For the 2006/2007 school year, students entering second year will make choices from a broader range of subjects than heretofore, allowing them to study both Science and Home Economics if so desired. It is planned to make Science a core subject on the curriculum for the entire junior cycle in the near future and a means of doing this is currently being investigated. The existing practice of placing first-year students in class groups based on ability is to be discontinued and the school intends to have mixed ability Science classes throughout the three years of junior cycle from next year onwards, as is presently the case for second and third-year students.
The school is currently offering Biology and Chemistry as optional subjects to Leaving Certificate level. There is a maximum class size of 24 students. Students are provided with the opportunity to choose their own subjects for senior cycle. These choices are then used to create a “best-fit” model, accommodating as many students as possible.
An optional Transition Year (TY) programme is also offered. TY students are allocated one double and one single class for Science each week. A range of topics is studied, including modules on topics such as Forensic Science and Microbiology. The course is activity oriented and is also used as a taster to assist students in choosing their subjects for Leaving Certificate.
There are four teachers of Junior Certificate Science in the school. Opportunities are being availed of for continuing professional development during the current national in-service training programme in Junior Certificate Science. Management is commended on the commitment given to facilitate this attendance. In addition, one Science teacher is also involved in the TL21 programme being run by the Department of Education of NUI Maynooth. The school encourages active participation by students in the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, Science Week and other Science-related extra-curricular activities. The work of the Science teachers in providing these opportunities for their students is praiseworthy.
There are two laboratories in the school. They are in good condition, well equipped and are adequate for their purpose. There is a shared storage and preparation area between the two laboratories. The majority of Science classes are held in a laboratory and the laboratories are used entirely for Science subjects. Access to a laboratory for specific classes is by agreement among Science teachers. It is recommended that more student-developed material, posters and project work for example, be displayed on the laboratory walls as this serves to stimulate and motivate students and enhance the learning environment.
A range of health and safety equipment was observed, including first aid kits, fire extinguishers, fire blankets, fume cupboards and gas isolation switches. The school has a health and safety statement that was drawn up in 2002. The Science teachers were involved in its preparation and are also involved in the annual review of this policy.
The school is actively engaged in the process of school development planning. Many elements of a school plan exist and further development is taking place, including a review of the existing code of discipline. Subject planning is being carried out currently in the Sciences and a range of detailed planning documents for Junior Certificate Science and TY Science was presented. Further school planning and development is taking place under the guidance of a staff member with specific responsibility for planning. A short induction programme is in place to support new teachers and there is a teacher’s manual available to all staff members. This is excellent practice.
The Science team have a department structure and there is an informal co-ordinator for Science. There was evidence of a strong sense of collegiality among the Science teachers. Two formal department meetings are held each year for the purpose of subject planning, timetabling and class group arrangements. Frequent informal and casual meetings are also held to discuss laboratory sharing and other matters. The Science teachers are given a budget each year to provide for the needs of their department. They expressed satisfaction with the level of support provided. The level of co-operation among the members of the Science-teaching team is laudable.
There is a three-year curricular plan in place for the teaching of Science. It is of a broad and general nature, listing topics and chapters from the textbook, sometimes on a term by term basis. It is important that the Junior Certificate Science syllabus is used as the basis of planning, rather than textbooks. Long-term plans should include a detailed list of coursework topics, a list of practical activities associated with each topic, the intended allocation of time for the coverage of each topic and a list of resources to be used in teaching each topic. Teaching and learning methodologies should always be included in order to ensure that teachers do not unwittingly restrict themselves to a preferred dominant style of teaching and to ensure that material is taught in a manner appropriate to the material itself and to the students being taught. Further helpful advice is available on the School Development Planning Initiative website, www.sdpi.ie.
In the lessons observed there was evidence of short term planning. Appropriate lesson plans were presented by all teachers. Teachers were familiar with the subject matter of every lesson and there was a theme running through each lesson. Materials and resources necessary for classes had been prepared in advance. This preparation contributed to the quality of learning and is to be commended. A range of excellent teacher-developed resources was also presented during one lesson and the teacher deserves credit for the preparation of such material.
In all classes visited, good discipline was apparent. Rapport with students was good and this is to be commended. Teachers were enthusiastic, warm, very patient and considerate of students and had a gentle and caring approach to their students. Teachers demonstrated a professional and business-like approach to work. The level of two-way communication in classrooms was relevant to the task at hand and a good learning environment was evident in all lessons observed. Students were attentive, interested and anxious to participate in the learning process. The topics covered in the classes observed included length, the principles of experimentation and centre of gravity.
A range of teaching methodologies was observed, including student practical work, the use of a data projector, OHP transparencies, board work, questioning, discussion, student work sheets and written work. Some excellent use of group work was observed in one class. Lessons were well structured and proceeded at a suitable pace. Changes in methodologies were built into lesson plans as appropriate. Students were challenged by lesson content and responded well. Continuity from previous lessons was good and new information was well linked to previous learning. There was good direction and follow through in the lessons observed. Lessons were well planned and had a clear focus. This is excellent practice.
Questioning of students was frequently used to assess their level of knowledge and understanding. This is to be commended. However, many of the questions asked were factual in nature, testing memory rather than understanding. The use of general questions, eliciting chorus answers, should be guarded against. When questions are directed towards individual students, there is an opportunity to gauge the level of student understanding during the course of a lesson and it is recommended that more extensive use of this methodology should be made. Additionally, students should be given time to think and to formulate their answers and should be encouraged to put up their hands before a respondent is chosen, encouraging all of them to engage in the teaching and learning process. This is especially important if questions are of a higher order, encouraging students to think at a deeper level. This methodology can also be used to control the pace of a lesson, to help settle lively and enthusiastic students, and give the teacher more time to observe the performance of individual students. The level of student engagement was good and students were 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.
During the observed student practical work the students worked singly. It was obvious from their behaviour that the students were accustomed to carrying out practical work and the Science teachers are to be praised for their commitment to seeing that their students get the opportunity to do this practical work themselves. In order to participate best in this investigative approach, however, and to ensure a high level of learning, students need a clear understanding of what they are about to do. It is recommended that adequate time be allowed for a plenary session in advance of any practical work, when clear and formal instructions can be given to students in a structured and disciplined setting. Similar plenary sessions were held when the practical activities were completed, in order to review the work done and to emphasise what had been learned. This is excellent practice.
Teacher movement among the students, assisting, examining and encouraging, was evident in all classes visited. Teachers were very affirming of student effort and were always encouraging and positive in correcting students with appropriate interventions. This is laudable. Good practice concerning the minimal use of textbooks was apparent during all lessons. Textbooks were used for background reading by students and to assist in homework. Homework given was appropriate to the lesson content and was designed to assist the student in learning and retaining the topic. This is excellent practice.
The excellent practice of making students aware of the objectives of a lesson at the beginning of a class period was observed in one class. The lesson objectives were clear, concise and were achieved. This is motivating to students as well as giving a sense of purpose and direction to classroom work. It can encourage a degree of self-assessment by students within the class and help individual students to monitor their own progress. It is recommended that this practice be extended to all lessons.
Students demonstrated a positive attitude towards Science as evidenced by the level of engagement and interest observed during the lessons visited. Students displayed a good level of knowledge, understanding and skills during interaction with the inspector. Formative assessment of students is carried out on an ongoing basis by questioning in class, through correction of homework and through teacher movement and observation of students during class.
Students keep laboratory notebooks up to date as evidence of practical work being carried out. This is a very important aspect of new and revised syllabuses in Science. While the quality of most of the notebooks was excellent, a few were of a lesser quality. It is recommended that laboratory notebooks are checked and annotated as necessary on a regular basis, by all teachers, as is being done with homework copies. This is an important means of encouraging students and of pointing the way towards improvement.
All classes are assessed by means of Christmas examinations. First, second and fifth-year students also sit summer examinations. Questions on mandatory practical work are included in these examinations and, on occasion, a percentage of marks had been set aside for the completion of laboratory notebooks. Common assessment tests for classes in a single year are used where possible. In addition, Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate classes sit mock examinations during the second term. These examinations are corrected externally. Additional testing is at the discretion of individual teachers. Records of assessment are held in teachers’ own diaries, on computer and in student files.
Results and progress reports are communicated to parents by means of Christmas, Easter and summer reports, and following mock examinations. Continuous assessment is used during the course of the second term as the basis of the grade for the Easter report. Communication with parents is also achieved by means of parent-teacher meetings, held once per year for each class. There are five such meetings each year, held in accordance with Department of Education and Science guidelines. In addition, the student journal that all students are required to have is used to communicate with parents. The school operates an open door policy and parents are encouraged to contact the school if they have any anxieties regarding their children’s performance.
There was evidence of record keeping by teachers, in the areas of student attainment and attendance. This is good practice. It is recommended that all teachers keep comprehensive records in order to build up a profile of their students. Such information can form the basis of very useful evidence in communicating student progress to parents and in advising both students and parents on their choice of subjects at senior level and on what level of examination paper to choose in certificate examinations.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
A professional approach is taken to the teaching of Science in Loreto College, Crumlin.
Science is well supported within the school, with good provision of resources.
Planning for the continued and enhanced support of Science is actively underway at all levels within the school.
Curricular planning is being carried out to enhance the teaching of Science.
There is excellent rapport between teachers and students. A positive atmosphere was observed in the classes visited. Students were motivated and eager to engage in learning processes.
Lessons observed were well structured and planned to ensure continuity and progression, with careful advance preparation of the necessary resource material.
A wide range of teaching methodologies was used, to good effect. This stimulated interest and helped to motivate students.
Practical work is given a high priority in the school with double periods allocated to all Science classes. Student practical work was observed with further evidence in the students’ laboratory notebooks, which is to be commended.
Areas for development include long-term planning and classroom procedure.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following recommendations are made:
It is recommended that more detailed long-term curricular planning be carried out.
It is recommended that greater use be made of directed questions.
It is recommended that adequate time be allowed for a plenary session in advance of all practical work.
It is recommended that laboratory notebooks are checked and annotated as necessary on a regular basis, by all teachers, as is being done with homework copies.
It is recommended that all teachers keep comprehensive records of student performance in order to build up a profile of their students.
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the principal and with the teachers of Science at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.