An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Biology
Coolock, Dublin 5.
Roll number: 60871V
Date of inspection: 20 September 2006
Date of issue of report:† 22 February 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Biology
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mercy College, Coolock. 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 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, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
There is good subject provision and whole school support for the teaching and learning of Science and Biology in Mercy College, Coolock. Teaching time allocated to the subject is in accordance with the syllabus requirements and there is an adequate number of double periods allocated to Science in the week to allow for investigative practical work. All students in Mercy College take Science in first year and then subject choices are made. Senior cycle programmes include Transition Year, the established Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme. A good range of Science subjects is offered at senior cycle and it is commendable that Chemistry is retained on the programme despite low uptake. It is recommended that management investigate potential ways to promote the profile of Science in the school at both junior and senior cycle and potential avenues were discussed during the course of the evaluation.
There are two laboratories in the school and it is commendable that management are exploring their refurbishment as part of the summer works scheme. The laboratories have lockable adjacent storage areas. Flammable and corrosive chemicals are stored in appropriate cabinets and other chemicals are stocked on colour-coded shelves. Apparatus necessary for the leaving Certificate Biology mandatory experiments was stored in separate labelled containers and the Science team have begun to extend this storage practice to some of the Junior Certificate Science mandatory investigations as well. The Science department is to be commended for this level of organisation and collaborative planning. The school has a health and safety statement which was reviewed in March 2006 and a range of health and safety equipment was in place during the evaluation which included fire extinguishers, fire blankets, first aid kits, safety goggles etc and it is commendable that isolation switches for gas and electricity were in the process of being installed at the time of this evaluation.
Opportunities for continuing professional development have been availed of and include both Junior Certificate Science and Leaving Certificate Biology inservice training by the support services for the revised syllabi. Co-curricular activities are promoted in the school. Pupils have visited Trinity College Science week, DCU open days and Science week and Dublin Zoo. Ecology fieldwork is carried out at Donabate and Newbridge. These activities are to be commended as they help to encourage participation and interest in the sciences.
Collaborative plans viewed were extensive and appropriately set out according to SDPI guidelines. The curriculum planning section contained a list of topics to be covered in each year and it is recommended that this list be distributed to students in order to inform them of the topics to be covered during their particular year and to facilitate them in their planning for revision. It is also suggested that the Science team elaborate on the teaching methodologies section, particularly concentrating on the addition of more active teaching methodologies. A collaborative approach to the methodologies section would yield a bank of activities, tasks and practices that can be adopted by members of the Science team as they see appropriate.
Scheduled formal meeting times are held twice per year. These meeting times deal with organisational issues and review respectively. A team approach to the coordination of the Sciences operates in the school. The Science team currently has an informal subject convenor for the Sciences. This position could rotate among the team on a yearly basis in order to share responsibility and to devolve leadership. In addition, informal coordination and communication occurs among the science teachers on an ongoing basis, which helps to establish and maintain collaboration. The Science team records the minutes of their meetings, which is good practice. Building on this, the setting of agendas in advance for future meeting could be considered.
Lessons visited were clear and well structured. The practice of sharing the lesson objectives with the students at the beginning of the lesson was observed in some classrooms and this is good practice. A range of appropriate teaching methodologies was employed during the lessons observed and included paired work, worksheet based activities, practical work, lessons incorporating the use of the overhead projector (OHP), board work and questioning. During the evaluation it was suggested that in some classes it may be appropriate to periodically change around the composition of groups or paired arrangement to allow diversity of exchange within the class group.† Spot demonstration was used as a methodology in some of the lessons observed and individual students were encouraged to participate in the demonstrations, which is good practice.
Teaching was enthusiastic and all lessons observed made good use of a variety of styles of questioning. This is good practice as it encourages all students to participate, keeps students on task and promotes higher order thinking skills. Quality of student responses indicated a variety of aptitudes. Some students showed good recall of previously taught topics when questioned by the inspector and overall a range of abilities were evidenced in the classrooms visited. A good rapport was seen to exist between students and their teacher and in classrooms where small numbers of students were present all students were encouraged to sit around the front desk which augmented the positive atmosphere in the room.† The presence of a special needs assistant in one classroom enhanced the lesson by discreetly encouraging students to answer questions and clarify procedures.
Examples of everyday occurrences with which students are familiar with gave good grounding to some of the lessons observed and this practice assists students in linking new material with previous knowledge and helps to promote learning. The learning environment was also enhanced with colourful posters and charts, which provide good visual stimulation. It is suggested that the science team explore the possibility of displaying more student-generated work. Potential for such displays exists in the classroom, on the corridors, in the school newsletters or on the school web-site.
The use of textbooks during lessons was minimal. Textbook use, in the main, was for background reading and for homework. The Science team could discuss and consider as to whether students should have their textbooks or other material open during the delivery of new material and during the questioning of material.
Practical activities were carried out with due regard for health and safety regulations. It is suggested that the health and safety code of practice for students, which is displayed on the wall in the laboratory, be replicated and distributed to all students. This document could then be easily referenced if attached to the inside cover of the mandatory practical notebooks. Difficulties the students were having with their tasks were dealt with in a supportive manner. In some classes, the teacher used this opportunity to investigate the extent of studentsí own understanding of the subject matter under investigation, through observing and asking them questions on the work they were about to undertake or complete. This was a very good approach and added to the success of the lesson as a learning experience for the students.
A range of assessment modes, both formative and summative, is used regularly to assess student competence and progress in Science and Biology. Formative assessment is carried out on an on-going basis through oral questioning, student observation, written assignments and the assessment of project and practical work. Class tests are also administered at regular intervals. All assessment outcomes are systematically recorded in the teacherís journal. This good practice helps to build a profile of studentsí progress and achievement in the subject over time. It is commendable that these profiles are used by the teacher to provide advice on examination levels to students and parents.
Feedback to parents takes the form of an Open Night for new students, annual parent teacher meetings for each year group and frequent informal meetings which is praiseworthy.† Whole school assessments include tests for first, second and third year Science students which is commendable. Common assessment papers are set at Christmas and summer for all Junior Science classes where appropriate and at Senior Biology level if possible. This is good practice. It is recommended that the Science team include a percentage allocation for coursework or standard of practical notebooks in these exams.
A series of studentsí notebooks were observed during the evaluation which were generally of a good standard and reflected the mixed ability settings of the classes visited.† Most homework exercise books were checked regularly and some included teachersí comments and annotations. This is good practice as it provides affirmation as well as direction to students. It is recommended that the Science department explore the possibility of developing common marking and checking practices with a view to setting up a common assessment strategy.† This could include practices around mandatory practical notebooks, homework, class testing and common marking schemes.
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 Biology and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
School Response to the Report
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1:† Observations on the content of the inspection report
The board of management is extremely pleased with the report.† It provides acknowledgement of the excellent and committed work taking place across all Science and Biology classes.
Area 2:†† Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the†† inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The science team, along with school management team has already put in place a plan to promote the profile of Science in the school, including a Science Week quiz, a number of field trips and talks on Science-related careers.†† The board of management is also happy to report that the laboratories will be refurbished under the 2007 summer works scheme.