An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Biology
Christian Brothers Secondary School
Midleton, County Cork
Roll number: 62360G
Date of inspection: 21 September 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Junior Certificate Science and leaving certificate biology
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Christian Brothers Secondary School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Junior Certificate Science and Leaving Certificate Biology and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of these subjects 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 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, deputy principal and subject teachers individually. 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.
All students at Christian Brothers Secondary School take Science to Junior Certificate level, in mixed ability groups. First year students have one double and one single period of Science with the allocation to both second and third year classes being one double and two single periods. Curriculum guidelines recommend four lessons weekly to include at least one double lesson for the duration of the science course. Currently first year students are not receiving the recommended contact time in Science. A review of this situation should be considered for the future.
The Transition Year (TY) programme is offered in the school. Currently students are choosing to enter TY or the Leaving Certificate Applied programme on completion of their Junior Certificate. Students choose their Leaving Certificate subjects before TY. Student options for senior cycle subjects are used to create a “best-fit” model, which results in a yearly change in the composition of the option blocks, in favour of student demand, within the constraints of timetabling and staff allocation. The school ensures that the science subjects for Leaving Certificate, Physics, Chemistry and Biology, are located in different option blocks, which is to be commended. Currently one double period and two single periods are allocated weekly for Biology during TY. The TY Biology programme viewed contained only Leaving Certificate material. It is important that the programme content for TY should not based on the Leaving Certificate Programme, but contains other areas of study that will support and complement the two-year Leaving Certificate syllabus.
A significant number of the students at the school study Chemistry and Physics with a majority studying Biology to Leaving Certificate. The time allocation of five lessons, comprising in the main one double and three single lessons weekly per science subject is within curriculum guidelines. However, one class group has a current allocation of five single periods which does not facilitate the organisation of practical work as required by the Biology syllabus. In addition some double classes for senior Biology are timetabled over morning break and lunch time. This practice may not be suitable for the conducting of some of the practical activities. This could be reviewed for the future. The students are organised for Biology on a mixed-ability basis.
If possible, students retain the same teacher for the three years of their junior cycle. In some instances a change of teacher may occur in second year, with students retaining this teacher into third year. Management stated that allocation of teachers to classes is mainly on a rota basis in most cases. At senior cycle, biology students retain the same teacher from TY to year 2 of Leaving Certificate.
The school has two laboratories which have a shared preparation and storage area. There is also a chemical storage area associated with this space. Information on the storage of chemicals is available on the physical sciences website, http://www.psi-net.org/chemistry. Access to the preparation area is via the laboratories. The laboratories have recently been refurbished through the Summer Works Scheme. These laboratories are well maintained and effective for the delivery of science subjects. In addition, another room is used as a laboratory. This laboratory could be considered a dry laboratory as it does not have gas or water, which makes the conducting of some practical work difficult. It is mainly utilised in the teaching of Leaving Certificate Physics and Technology. However, some junior science classes are timetabled in this room at present. These junior classes should have some access to the other laboratories especially when conducting some of the mandatory practical activities. Generally double lessons have priority for access to the laboratory, with rotation between the teachers when required for laboratory access, which is to be commended.
Each laboratory has a computer with internet access and data projector. Overhead projectors are also available in the laboratories. This is to be commended. The science department is currently waiting on a large amount of science equipment. The storage and organisation of this new equipment and existing materials needs to be considered by the team as a matter of priority. The organisation of topic-specific project boxes which will help in the organisation of practical work could be considered.
Management allocates a yearly budget for the sciences. This practice is operating satisfactorily in the school. Due to the refurbishment, additional stools need to be provided in the laboratories to replace those that are now ergonomically unsuitable for the new bench height. There is good provision of safety equipment such as fire extinguishers, safety blankets, safety glasses etc., in the laboratories. The inclusion of more safety signage in the laboratories, to inform students of what is good practice, should be considered. Copies of the published guidelines on safety – Safety in School Science and Safety in the School Laboratory published by the Department of Education and Science in 1996 are available. Further copies, if required, can be downloaded from the website above. The school has a health and safety statement which was reviewed in June 2006. Management stated that science teachers were not involved in this review.
The science facilities contained some visual stimuli, mainly in the form of charts, diagrams and models. Regular updating of this material should help to maintain the interest and stimulation of the students. Consideration could be given to the use of display boards on which, for example, charts, diagrams, displays of student work and recent science-related articles could be placed. With regular updating, this should help to maintain the interest and stimulation of the students. Pictures of past science achievements are located along the corridor near the science facilities. This helps in the promotion of the subject. The use of notice boards that display science-related material and student work in the same corridor space as an initiative to raise further the profile of the sciences in the school could also be considered by the science team.
Some opportunities for continuing professional development (CPD) in Junior Science and previously in Biology and the physical sciences have been availed of by teachers. Teachers should continue to avail of CPD. Details of some relevant courses (both in teaching and in subject -specific areas) are to be found in the Second Level Support Service booklet, online at www.SLSS.ie and also through the local education centre. Management stated that it endorses and supports CPD. In addition, all teachers are encouraged to be members of their subject association with the school contributing to the registration fee, which is to be commended.
The school has been engaged in the process of school development planning. The school currently has a permanent coordinator for each of the science areas in the school. The science team has developed a common science curricular plan for first year science students. This is to be commended. This planning was facilitated through formal staff meetings and the allocation of additional time by management as required by the science team. The science team has also agreed to meet once a month during lunch time during the current academic year. Additional informal meetings occur on an ongoing basis.
Individual planning material for junior Science and senior Biology was presented, which is to be commended. Moving forward and building on this existing planning, the science team collectively should adopt a common approach in second and third year science as is currently in operation successfully in first year. This approach to curricular planning should also be adopted in Biology and in the other senior science subjects. In addition to content the curricular planning documents should also address other relevant areas. These could include alternative forms of assessment, organisation and timing of practical activities, homework, student access and level, class organisation, record keeping, support and planning for students with special educational needs, in-career development (CPD), cross-curricular planning, and the integration of information and communication technology (ICT). Such discussion would also allow for the sharing of ideas for good practice, teaching resources and other ideas for practical investigations. The science team should continue to make good use of the revised syllabuses and other relevant documentation to facilitate science programme planning at all levels. Additional materials in relation to junior Science and Biology can be accessed, for example, on the following websites, www.bsstralee.ie and www.juniorscience.ie with further links to other relevant information sites.
The planning document should also highlight any further resource implications presented by the revised syllabuses and include procedures to acquire and access these resources in the future. Discussion and reflection on the experiences gained through involvement with the revised syllabuses should also be a major influence on these plans. In addition it would be important that all plans created would be reviewed regularly and modified to meet the students’ needs when required. This could be put on the agenda for one of the team meetings during the year.
Short-term planning was very noticeable in the majority of lessons observed. A lesson theme was observed and the materials, chemicals and apparatus required for practical work was pre prepared. The variety of resources viewed included the use of ICT for PowerPoint presentations, textbooks, whiteboard, models, and various types of handout material and workbooks that aided student learning.
The majority of lessons observed had a disciplined atmosphere with a clear and fair code of behaviour. A positive teacher-student rapport was observed in these lessons, which is to be commended, and it contributed to a constructive learning environment. Students were generally attentive, interested and anxious to participate well in the learning processes. In general, there was an appropriate pace to most of the lessons observed which facilitated student learning. Food test, forces and moments, fungi, genetics, heat and light, the periodic table and measurement were the topics of study in the observed lessons.
Teaching methodologies observed included student practical work in groups, teacher demonstration, questioning, explanation, whiteboard work, use of handouts and/or worksheets, use of textbooks and ICT. Most but not all lessons began with some form of whole-class teaching. Previous work, knowledge and understanding were examined through questioning. Some of the questioning was directed to named students, which is good practice. Chorused answering to questioning should be discouraged as this makes it very difficult to know how well individual students understand the material. In some lessons students were continually questioned as the topic was developed, which is good practice and is to be encouraged. As all classes observed were of mixed ability, it is recommended that differentiation by questioning be employed to encourage the active participation of students who are less able and to provide a challenge for students who are more familiar with the subject matter. Closed questions might ask for a name or specific piece of information. The use of more probing techniques, for example, which might ask for a student’s line of reasoning or an opinion or evaluation, should be considered, with adequate time afforded to a student to answer. It is also important to ensure that all students are engaged through questioning at different points throughout the lesson to ensure that their learning does not become purely passive. Whole-class teaching was also used effectively at the end of some of the lessons observed. This helped to draw together key points under the guidance of the teacher, and was very effective.
Student understanding was enhanced when the material delivered was sequenced in a clear and logical manner. When material was developed from students’ understanding their attainment of the subject matter was of a good standard. Student engagement was also observed to benefit from this approach. In addition, when the expected learning outcomes and objectives for the lesson were clarified to the students, it helped to focus their learning. In contrast, students became very confused when they were asked to record abstract concepts prior to any explanation of the material. This did not benefit student learning and very much reduced student engagement with the topic and should be avoided.
Practical work was observed in a number of lessons. The observed practical work was done in conjunction with the theory currently being studied by the students and was used to reinforce this material. This is good practice and it also allows for the development of the students’ practical skills over the course of the programme. Students worked singly or in groups of two or three during all observed practical activities. Safety precautions were outlined to the students and reinforced by the teacher. However, the location of student bags needs to be addressed within the laboratories especially when practical work is planned. Some observed practical work began with a degree of teacher instruction, demonstration and guidance. It is important that students get an appropriate level of instruction to complete task(s). However, reference to actual results should be avoided at this time, as this is one of the reasons the students are engaged in the activity. Students could be asked for their opinions or hypotheses, which they can accept or reject, on completion of their practical investigation. All materials for the practical activities were organised in advance by the teacher. The inclusion of students in some of this organisation should be considered in order to develop their practical skills. Students should be able to assemble the majority of their equipment and it should be easily accessible to them in the laboratory. The provision of a worksheet for the recording of findings and the application of their knowledge was also observed in some lessons. This was worthwhile as it helped to focus the students on the task while also serving to highlight potential difficulties. During most practical activities the teacher moved around the room checking student progress and provided guidance when required. In some instances questioning to assess and probe student understanding was observed during the practical activity. This further enhanced the learning experience for the student and is to be commended. In most instances students were afforded suitable time for the completion of their practical investigations. Overestimation and underestimation of time for completion of practical activities should be avoided to ensure student learning and engagement. On completion of their practical activity students should be encouraged to share and discuss their results and conclusions in a plenary recall session. This active engagement of the students in their learning could then help them to make a record of their own investigative work in their own words rather than using the “recipe” in their textbooks or handout or as dictated by the teacher. This approach could also be adopted, for example, to summarise material delivered during a theory class. In the context of mixed-ability classes, the use of differentiation in order to enhance student-learning could be considered. This could be achieved through the use of differentiation by task, using differentiated worksheets or assignments where the task could be extended or reduced according to the students’ ability. While there was some evidence of differentiation through intervention during practical investigations, this could be further developed during group work, pair work, problem solving and collaborative learning.
In addition to student practical activities, teacher demonstration was also observed. In most instances demonstration served to enhance both the theory being delivered and the student practical activities, which is to be commended. Students were invited to participate in the demonstration, which is good practice. However, some observations saw very teacher-led demonstration with little or no student interaction. Students could not see the demonstration which affected the learning ability of the students. In addition, the material being demonstrated would have been better served as a student-based practical activity and not a demonstration in the first instance.
Students had laboratory notebooks or files in which they recorded all their investigative work. Some monitoring of student notebooks is noted and commended. More regular monitoring of student work is to be encouraged. The inclusion of the students’ practical work in the current scheme of assessment should be considered, as it would provide further motivation for engagement by all students with the practical element of the course. Textbooks use was minimal in most of the classes observed. Their use was mainly in reinforcing the work completed during the class and for homework. Homework given was appropriate to the lesson material and was designed to assist the student in learning and retaining the topic. Consideration could be given as to whether students have their textbooks or other material open during the delivery of new material and during the questioning of material.
A range of resources such as PowerPoint presentations, acetates, student handouts, student worksheets, models, diagrams, and the blackboard to enhance teaching and consolidate learning were observed. The majority of materials were clearly planned and presented to ensure student learning and retention and enhanced the learning environment for the student. It is acknowledged that a lot of preparation time went into the development of the material, which was of great benefit to student learning and is to be highly commended. The sharing of resources prepared by the teachers particularly in the area of ICT is to be encouraged to assure the quality of teaching and learning in science classrooms. Over dependence on any one method in the delivery of the subjects is recommended to ensure student engagement. However, very careful consideration needs to be made in the use and benefit of some of the ICT observed during whole class teaching. Students strained to see a small computer screen which was far too small for a whole class approach. In this instance this use of a data projector should have been considered. In addition the use of ICT should be used to enhance the learning for the student and not replace student practical activities.
In theory-based lessons, scientific concepts were presented in a stimulating manner and students were, in the main, actively engaged by means of appropriate teacher questioning, demonstration or student activity. The whiteboard was used to illustrate simple diagrams and highlight significant points. Though clear, the use of more colours should be considered in order to enhance students’ visualisation of the material. Statements in relation to how difficult a topic should be avoided as this can create pre-conceptions in the students and affect their engagement and therefore learning of the topic.
In the majority of the lessons observed indicated a good level of achievement by the students. Student interest and the level of engagement observed during lessons indicate a positive attitude towards Science and Biology.
Formative assessment of the students is carried out on an ongoing basis by questioning in class, and by means of homework. However, to ensure that assessment of all students occurs, questioning of named students is recommended in order to prevent chorus answering. Formal assessments are held for non-examination classes at Christmas and summer. Junior Certificate students also sit examinations at Christmas. Leaving Certificate students have an assessment in October. State examination classes have pre-examinations in the spring of their examination year. These scripts are externally assessed. Formal reports are sent to parents following October, Christmas, summer and pre-examinations. In addition to reports, parent-teacher meetings are held for all classes annually.
Tests at the end of units are administered during lesson time at the discretion of the teacher. The science team could formalise the number of tests they will administer to their classes in each year group. This could be further developed to incorporate a method of continuous assessment. The inclusion of practical work in the scheme of continuous assessment is recommended, as it provides motivation for engagement by all students with the practical element of the course and ensures regular monitoring of student laboratory notebooks. This could be considered especially for students of non-examination years, acting as a stimulus for learning and a means of reward for hard work.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The science facilities were refurbished under a recent summer works scheme. They are
well maintained and have appropriate preparation or storage areas.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· An immediate review of the topics in the current TY Biology programme is strongly recommended. Non Leaving Certificate areas of study that will complement and support the two year Leaving Certificate need to be introduced into the current programme.
· The planning work completed to date by the science department is to be commended. This common approach to planning should be extended to all year groups. In addition the planning process should also consider for example future organisation of the laboratories, a policy regarding practical work, the use and monitoring of practical laboratory notebooks, assessment, homework, future planning of courses, students with special education needs, in-career development (CPD), cross-curricular planning, and the integration of information and communication technology (ICT). Further review, evaluation and adaptation of plans could occur annually.
Post-evaluation meetings were held individually 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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management and Staff welcome the overall positive report on the Teaching and Learning of Junior Certificate Science and Senior Cycle Biology in the School.
The main strengths identified in the evaluation are consistent with the Board and Staffs views. In particular, the Inspectorate’s finding that a professional approach is taken by teachers is appreciated.
We will continue to build and develop these strengths.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
A review of the Transition Year Biology programme has been initiated with a view to incorporating further areas of complementary study.
Other recommendations in the report are being given serious consideration.
The Board of Management is committed to supporting teachers in their ongoing professional development and in implementing change as recommended in the Inspector’s report.