An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Biology
314/318 Crumlin Road Crumlin Dublin 12
Roll number: 60990G
Date of inspection: 5 December 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Biology
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Meánscoil Chroimghlinne. 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 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 manager of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the manager chose to accept the report without response.
Junior Certificate Science is a core subject for first-year students. When beginning second year, students choose between Science and Business Studies. Students are well supported in making this choice, with input from their teachers, the guidance counsellor and their parents. Science is a popular choice and the number of students choosing it each year is satisfactory. All classes are mixed ability and classes are small in size. It is suggested that subject choices for second year be expanded to include a greater range of subjects, depending on the resources available to the school.
Three class periods, in the form of one double and one single period, are allocated to first-year students. This is slightly below syllabus guidelines, and is due to the range and variety of subjects that first-year students study. All classes in second and third year are allocated five single periods per week. This is a generous allocation. It is recommended however, that a double period be included in this allocation as recommended in the Junior Certificate science syllabus.
The school is currently offering Biology and Chemistry as optional subjects to Leaving Certificate level. Students are provided with the opportunity to choose their own subjects for senior cycle, from a fixed set of options. Biology and Chemistry are on separate lines, enabling students to choose both, if desired. Biology is the more popular of the science subjects and the number of students choosing it is very encouraging. Biology classes are allocated five single periods per week. While this is within syllabus guidelines, it is again recommended that a double class be included as recommended in the Leaving Certificate biology syllabus. All classes are mixed ability.
There is one teacher of science subjects in the school. This teacher takes all junior cycle science and senior cycle biology and chemistry classes. Opportunities have been availed of to attend continuing professional development (CPD) during recent and current national in-service training programmes in Junior Certificate Science and Leaving Certificate Biology. Management is commended on the commitment given to facilitate attendance at in-service training to date. The teacher is also a member of the Irish Science Teachers Association.
There is one science laboratory in the school. It is in good condition, well equipped and adequate for its purpose. There is a storage and preparation room adjacent to the laboratory. The storage area is well stocked, well maintained and well ordered. Resources available to the science teachers include an overhead projector, a laptop computer and data projector. The laboratory is shortly to be broadband enabled. The provision of such resources by management is to be commended. All science classes are held in the laboratory. A variety of posters and charts were observed on the laboratory walls, creating an appropriate and stimulating learning environment. It is recommended that some student-generated work be included and that the displays be changed occasionally, in line with the topics being taught, to highlight students’ project work.
Students are provided with opportunities to take part in a range of extra-curricular activities. Visits are arranged to exhibitions, talks and other events in Trinity College, Dublin, and in Dublin City University. Students also visit the W5 exhibition in Belfast as part of a tour that is carried out in conjunction with the History, Geography and Business teachers. The science teacher is commended for providing students with these opportunities.
A range of health and safety equipment was observed, including a first-aid kit, gas and electricity isolation switches and fire extinguishers. Displaying simple and direct laboratory rules in a more prominent manner should enhance this good attention to safety. The school has a health and safety statement that was drawn up with appropriate consultation. This statement should be reviewed in the near future to ensure that it remains up to date.
As there is only one teacher of science subjects in the school, there has not been a need to set up a formal science department. The science teacher carries out all curricular planning, stock control, equipment ordering and laboratory management duties. The science teacher deserves great credit for the amount of work completed in this area. Funding for the sciences is provided as requested and management has been very supportive to date.
A comprehensive subject-department folder was presented to the inspector. This folder contains the background information relevant to the smooth running of the science department, and includes the aims and objectives of the courses being taught, along with, detailed reference to class organisation, student access to the sciences, special education needs (SEN) planning, teaching methodologies, resources, and health and safety. Planning documents also make reference to cross-curricular planning. Links have been established with a number of other subject areas, including History, Geography, Mathematics, SPHE and Business Studies. This is good practice.
The curricular section of the folder lists the topics to be taught in Science, in each year of the junior cycle, and in Biology for the two years of the senior cycle. Commendably, these plans are based on documents provided by the Junior Science Support Service and the Biology Support Service. It is recommended that a time schedule for teaching these topics be included as part of this document. This will help to ensure that all sections of the course are completed in a timely manner and that provision for resources can be made in advance, especially for practical resources that are perishable. Such planning will also provide information for management, and others, on the work completed, and that which is still to be taught. This would facilitate the work of a substitute teacher, if and when one is required. In addition, planning should be expanded to take into consideration the use of information and communications technology (ICT) as the science teacher is now using it extensively.
In the lessons, observed there was evidence of short-term planning. The teacher was familiar with the subject matter of every lesson and there was a theme running through each lesson. Materials necessary for class, along with the chemicals and apparatus required for student centred investigative work, had been prepared in advance. This preparation contributed to the quality of learning and is to be commended.
In all classes visited, there was a disciplined atmosphere. There was a warm atmosphere evident, where patience and consideration of students’ needs was obvious. Rapport with students was good and this is to be commended. Teaching was carried out with great energy and enthusiasm, and a professional and business-like approach to work was the norm. A good learning environment was evident in all the lessons observed. Good progress was made in all lessons. The level of two-way communication in classrooms was relevant to the task at hand. Students were attentive, interested and engaged very well in the learning process. The topics covered in the classes observed included density, magnetic fields and enzymes.
There was an excellent balance between active-learning methodologies and teacher-centred presentations in the lessons observed. There was evidence of differentiation in the manner in which lessons were conducted, and students were given opportunities to achieve according to their abilities. A high expectation for students’ achievement was apparent and an atmosphere of affirmation and support of their efforts was evident at all times. There was good use of scientific terminology in all lessons observed. Students were challenged by lesson content and responded well. Continuity from previous lessons was good and new information was well linked to previous learning. Lessons had a clear focus. This is excellent practice.
A range of well-chosen and stimulating teaching methodologies was observed. These included teacher demonstrations, teacher talk, presentations with an overhead projector, student writing, student practical activity and the use of information and communication technology (ICT). Questioning of students was frequently used to check on levels of knowledge and understanding, which is to be commended. Questions ranged from the factual, testing recall, to questions of a higher order that were more challenging and encouraged students to think at a deeper level. Good use was made of handouts and student worksheets. Lessons proceeded at a suitable pace and changes in methodologies were built into lesson plans, as appropriate. Of particular note was the manner in which theoretical work was integrated with practical activities in all lessons observed. Students moved from listening to the teacher and answering questions, to carrying out experimental work on the laboratory bench, in a seamless manner. This joining of theory and practise into a coherent whole is highly commended.
Lessons were mostly well structured and students were kept busy and actively engaged at all times. Best practice was seen where previous learning was reviewed, in order to set the stage for moving on. This review was followed by the presentation of new material, using appropriate methodologies, and students were provided with opportunities to put new learning into practice, before a final summarising of the lesson and assignment of homework. It is recommended that clear learning goals be outlined to students at the outset of lessons. These goals should be concise and achievable. Expressing these goals in the form of learning outcomes can encourage a degree of self-assessment by students within the class and help individuals to monitor their own progress. Learning outcomes also provide a basis upon which the teacher can summarise the lesson content at relevant stages during lessons, and again at the end of lessons, and upon which homework can be given.
The practical work that was undertaken was efficiently organized and implemented. The students worked singly or in small groups and they demonstrated a mature approach to their work. Plenary sessions, before and after students’ activities, were facilitated, thus ensuring that the students clearly understood the purpose of the practical work, and had an opportunity to discuss and rationalize their findings afterwards. An investigative approach to student practical work was promoted and facilitated in all lessons observed. This approach is highly commended. Teacher circulation, in order to assist, examine and encourage students was evident at all times.
Good practice concerning the minimal use of textbooks was apparent during all lessons observed. Students were assigned homework at the conclusion of all lessons. This homework was appropriate to the lesson content, was varied, and was designed to assist each student in learning and understanding the topic in question.
Students demonstrated a positive attitude towards Science and Biology as evidenced by the level of engagement and interest observed during the lessons. 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 as noted by the inspector.
A significant number of students in Meánscoil Chroimghlinne are in receipt of learning support. However, it is reported that, due to difficulties experienced by the school from the fact that only two individual psychological assessments per year are completed by the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), some students have not been able to access appropriate supports from the Department of Education and Science.
Students keep laboratory activity workbooks up-to-date as evidence of practical work being carried out. This is a very important aspect of new and revised syllabuses in the sciences. While the quality of some of the work was good, others were of a lesser quality, and overall there was a large degree of variation. It is recommended that these workbooks are checked and annotated regularly, with particular attention being paid to students entering the results of each activity and drawing appropriate conclusions. This is an excellent means of encouraging students and of pointing the way towards improvement.
All non-certificate examination classes are assessed by means of formal examinations at Christmas and at the end of the school year. Sixth-year and third-year students are assessed at Christmas and by means of mock examinations in February. House examinations mirror the type of questioning used in the certificate examinations and a portion of marks may be allocated for the satisfactory completion of the students’ practical workbooks. This is good practice. Additional informal testing is carried out frequently, at the discretion of the teacher. Outcomes in the certificate examinations are encouraging.
Results of Christmas assessments, and progress reports, are communicated to parents by means of Christmas reports presented at parent-teacher meetings early in the second term. Reports are also sent home following summer assessments and mock examinations as appropriate. Parent-teacher meetings are held once per year for each class. In addition, the student journal that all students are required to keep 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 concerns regarding their children’s performance.
Records of student progress held by the science department include attendance and assessment results. A seating plan is in place for all class groups. It is recommended that sufficient records be maintained for the purpose of building up a complete profile of each student. Such recorded information can form the basis of very useful evidence when communicating student’s progress to parents and in advising both students and parents on the choice of subjects for senior cycle and the appropriate level at which each subject should be taken.
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.
Published April 2009