An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Biology
St Patrickís College
Roll number: 61060M
Date of inspection: 10 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Biology
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Patricks College, Cavan. 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 two days 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, deputy 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 to this report.
Science is a core subject on the Junior Certificate programme while Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Agricultural Science are offered on the Leaving Certificate programme.† This range of Science subjects is commendable and gives students greater options when making career choices.† It is suggested that management explore the potential for additional senior cycle programmes, such as, for example, the Transition Year programme or the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme, where Science education could be enriched even further.
There are forty-five class periods in the school week.† Time allocation for the individual subjects is appropriate and all classes are apportioned at least one double period per week that is necessary to allow investigative practical work to take place.† It is important that as many classes as possible be timetabled for the laboratory as practical work is now a graded constituent of the Junior Science syllabus.† Currently, access to the laboratories is negotiated between the Science team.† Management is advised, when reviewing the timetable, to consider the prospect of formalising this arrangement.
The school has three laboratories, each with adjacent preparation and lockable storage area.† It is recommended that a flame-proof cabinet to be added to each store as a matter of priority.† Rules of the laboratory were displayed on the notice board in the laboratory and health and safety regulations were adhered to in all laboratory classes observed.† In order to reinforce this good practice, it is suggested that the rules of the laboratory be reviewed regularly and distributed to all students and attached to their lab notebooks.† Notice boards in the labs contained posters and displays of student work on the walls, which is praiseworthy, as it encourages the language of science in the laboratory, and give pupils recognition for their efforts.† It is also laudable that a section of one notice board was dedicated to careers in Science.
Some members of the Science team have benefited from opportunities for continuing professional development during national in-service training in the revised Biology and Junior Science syllabuses.† Management are to be commended for their commitment to facilitating this in-service and for their on-going consideration in supporting staff training needs.† It is recommended that where some members of the Science team have been unable to attend the in-service training that provision be put in place to allow dissemination of such training information.
Provision for ICT includes one PC and Data projector that is shared between the three laboratories.† At the time of this inspection, Broadband internet access was available in some classrooms and the science team plan to develop this as a further resource that can be used to enhance the teaching and learning in Science and Biology lessons.†
The Science department actively promote the sciences within the school and encourage participation in a wide range of co-curricular activities that foster interest and initiative, which have included trips to Ballyjamesduff Water Treatment plant and Sewage Treatment plant.† Students have also been encouraged to take part in Science quizzes organised through the ISTA.† Teachers have also organised visits to Ballyhaise Agricultural College.† These activities are to be highly commended and the teachers involved are to be congratulated for their commitment in providing such stimulating experiences for students.†
A wide range of individual long-term planning documentation was available in the school, some of which was very comprehensive and included a time-scale for each section of the syllabus as well as practical work and assessments to be carried out.† It is recommended that the science team take the opportunity to review these plans in the light of the revised syllabuses and include planning for common assessments, sharing of resources and investigative practical work.
Collaborative long-term planning was in evidence for first year students and included a common Christmas test.† This is good practice and the science team is encouraged to explore the potential for extending this collaborative planning to further year groups where appropriate. It is further suggested that the list of topics for each year group resulting from these collaborative plans be distributed to students at the beginning of the school year.† Good short-term planning was in evidence.† Materials and resources to be used in the lessons were prepared in advanced and this served to enhance the teaching and learning in the lessons observed.
Informal communication and co-ordination continues on a regular basis.† Departmental meetings have recently been formalised and are held on a termly basis and this is a commendable innovation.† In order to ensure a sharing of workload and responsibilities throughout the Science department, it is suggested that the position of Science co-ordinator be rotated on a yearly basis, if practicable.† It is suggested that the Science team add a record book to each laboratory in order to note potential topics for discussion at upcoming departmental meetings, issues arising in the time between meetings and recordings of any stock or resources to be ordered.
Lessons observed covered a range of topics including distillation and separating techniques, factors affecting germination and reproduction in plants, digestion, forces and energy and revision of oxidation, reduction and chemical reactions.† Lessons observed were presented in a coherent and confident manner and the purpose of each lesson was clearly established from the outset. Students were aware of exactly what was expected of them and what the intended outcome of the lesson was.† Lesson development was good and the pace of learning was appropriate to student ability. High expectations in terms of participation and behaviour were set.
Lessons were delivered effectively using a variety of methodologies which included groupwork, questioning, use of overhead projector, whole class discussions, investigative practical activities, past paper questions, board work, teacher demonstration, use of worksheets and the Powerpoint projector.† Students were challenged by the content of the lessons and were engaged in their own learning.† Where teaching methodologies were varied during the course of the lesson it served to enhance the teaching and learning of Science in the classroom and this course of action is to be encouraged where practicable.
Science was made relevant and linked to studentsí everyday experiences during most of the lessons observed.† Studentsí interest was immediately captured at the start of one lesson when a sheep skull was compared with a human skull and both used to assist in the identification of dental formation.† As a result, students were aware that what they had learned was not just an abstract concept but had real life applications.† This emphasis on making Science relevant to studentsí lives is praiseworthy.
Many of the lessons observed made use of pre-prepared materials and resources, Overhead Projector (OHP) transparencies, worksheets and diagrams on the data projector and CD-ROMs.††† This attention to planning served to augment the teaching and learning in each lesson and these visual aids were most effective when they were tailored to suit the abilities of the individuals in the class groups. It is suggested that the Science teachers consider the development of a common bank of resources to include worksheets and OHP transparencies, which can be added to as they are developed.† These resources can then be adapted if necessary to suit the differing needs of the students.
Where practical activities were observed, they were investigative and students worked with due regard for health and safety regulations.† Students were allocated to groups of two or three, they worked competently and were engaged in their own learning.† This good practice encourages peer learning while teacher initiated discussions and higher order questioning encouraged dialogue within the groups.
Most classes began with homework being corrected and finished with assignment of homework for the next lesson.†† This approach lends structure to the lesson and students are encouraged to note homework assignments in their journals.† Form tutors monitor these journals and parents are asked to check and sign them periodically.† This level of supervision is commendable practice.† Feedback to parents also takes the form of Parent Teacher meetings, one for each year group.† Reports are issued to parents that include a comment on student progress.† Further communication with parents takes the form of annual parent-teacher meetings for each year group, and use of newsletters and the school website.
Formative assessment of the students is carried out on an ongoing basis by an effective range of questioning techniques. Questions were directed to individual named students or were open to the entire class group. On some occasions questioning was also used to challenge students to provide explanations for scientific terms and the wider use of this method of assessment is encouraged as it allows teachers further opportunity to assess individual studentsí understanding.† The students receive positive and affirmative verbal feedback on their work.† Students were well challenged by their teachers. It is suggested that these good practices and the wider use of Assessment for Learning methods be further explored by the science teaching team.† Information relating to Assessment for Learning is available on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) website, www.ncca.ie and teachers are encouraged to access this site.†
Records of pupil attainment in class tests are recorded in teachersí diaries. This provides a good source of information for feedback to parents and in assisting students in making subject choices at senior level and in deciding the appropriate level of examination paper to choose in certificate exams.
Whole school examinations take place at Christmas and in June for first, second and fourth years while examinations for certificate exam students are held in October, with mock exams in February.† It is recommended that the Science team adopt, where practicable, a collegial approach to assessment. This could include common examinations, where practicable, and the inclusion of a coursework allocation in the overall grade.†
A record of mandatory Junior Certificate practical write-ups was evidenced in the student laboratory notebooks that are an important aspect of the revised Junior Certificate Science syllabus. Most notebooks observed were of a good standard and the majority showed evidence of checking and annotation, which is a good way of encouraging pupils and giving direction, and it is advised that this practice be adopted in all Science classes.† The Science departmentís assessment procedures could be further enhanced by the formation of a common marking/correcting strategy
The following are the main strengths and areas for development 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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1:† Observations on the content of the inspection report
Provision of laboratory technicians essential if potential of new Junior Certificate Science syllabus is to be realised.
Area 2:†† Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the†† inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection