An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science
Scoil na mBráithre Chríostaí
Charleville, County Cork
Roll number: 62440E
Date of inspection: 12 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Scoil na mBráithre Chríostaí, Charleville. 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 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 of this report.
Science is in a fairly strong position in the school. Junior Certificate Science is a core subject. The school currently offers Biology, Physics, Chemistry and Agricultural Science as optional subjects to Leaving Certificate level. It is suggested that management and staff continue to devise strategies to encourage student uptake of all science subjects at Leaving Certificate level. The Transition Year (TY) programme is evolving, having only been introduced two years ago in the school. It is noteworthy that the modules on offer are being reviewed on an annual basis in order to meet the needs of the students. Currently TY students have one lesson per week for Science, which comprises a range of modules including Sport-Science and study Agricultural Science for one term. It is recommended that a minimum of a double lesson per week be allocated to sciences in TY in order to facilitate the further enhancement of student practical skills and science process skills. The operation of a taster system in TY allowing students an extra year of experience and maturity before making their subject choices is good practice and would be further enhanced by the provision of Chemistry and Biology modules if found to be practicable.
The three teachers in the science department of C.B.S. Charleville are a good resource. The science teachers are committed to their work. All science classes at both senior and junior cycle are of mixed ability. It is commendable that all students are encouraged to study higher-level Science at Junior Certificate and final decisions regarding chosen levels are generally not made until third year.
The time allocation for the sciences at Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate levels is in line with the class-contact time recommended in the syllabuses and supports the delivery of the curricula, with almost all classes receiving an even spread of lessons over the week. This is commended. Generally, classes retain the same teacher throughout junior cycle, and again in senior cycle. This commitment by management is applauded. Formalisation of links between the science department and the learning support teacher should be considered to further enhance the scientific understanding of students.
It is good to note that students have an input into the creation of the subject-option blocks. Students’ initial choices are used to create a “best-fit” model for senior-cycle subjects. Students entering fifth year are supported in making appropriate subject choices. The Guidance counsellor is available to meet individual parents and students. The parents of third-year and Transition Year students’ attend an information night on the entire programme and subject options available in senior cycle.
The school is well resourced for the teaching of the sciences, with two bright laboratories containing an adequate level of equipment. Science teachers are encouraged to continue enhancing these resources. Each laboratory has an adjacent preparation room without a separate chemical store or appropriate ventilation. It is recommended that appropriate ventilation be put in place. Management could apply for this matter to be addressed under the Summer Works Scheme.
There is a fine provision of safety equipment such as fire extinguishers, safety glasses and laboratory coats in the laboratories. 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 in the science department. It is good to note that teachers collaborate in the management of resources. Considerable work has been done on compiling a list of chemicals for disposal and teachers have endeavoured to have these substances removed. This is commended. Alternative routes for the disposal of these unwanted chemicals should also be investigated. In parallel, it is recommended that the chemicals be stored according to storage classifications, thus ensuring the segregation of the oxidisers and the flammable chemicals. It is best practice to store flammable chemicals in a flame-resistant press. Information on the storage of chemicals can be obtained on the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) website, http://chemistry.slss.ie/. Consideration could also be given to formalising the system for the purchase of chemicals and equipment. It is commended that the school has a health and safety statement, which was reviewed in 2005 in consultation with members of the science department.
It is good to note that management provides financial support for the updating, repair or enhancement of existing resources. The laboratories contain computers and a mobile television and DVD player are available in the school. An overhead projector is shared between both laboratories. There is an information and communication technology (ICT) suite in the school which can also be used for the teaching and learning of the sciences. Data-logging equipment has also been purchased for the teaching of Science. Both laboratories have internet access. Management is to be commended on the provision of such facilities. One example of the use of this equipment to support the teaching and learning of the sciences is the provision of animations and other visual stimuli. Data-logging is used to teach topics such as colorimetry and mechanics. The science teachers are encouraged to build on this very good practice and expand the use of these facilities to support the teaching and learning process.
Management encourages teachers to avail of all continuing professional development (CPD) training being offered. All teachers have attended in-career development in the sciences. This is commended. Whole-staff development days, including those focusing on first aid, have also taken place. Management encourages the professional development of the school’s teachers and provides financial support for membership of the professional associations and for further study. This is laudable.
Co-curricular and extra-curricular science activities, including field trips, preparation for entries into the Young Scientist and Technology exhibition and participation in ‘Science Week’ activities in the University of Limerick form part of the schools’ science programme. Those involved are to be praised for their commitment to facilitating these educational and stimulating activities.
The process of school development planning, which commenced during the 1999-2000 academic year is now at an advanced stage in the school. A vast array of policies, including those on admissions, dignity in the workplace, religious education and child protection are in place. Subject department planning along with the development of curricular policies were prioritised as the next area to be addressed as part of the school development planning process during the academic year 2005-2006. It is noteworthy that a fine common programme of work for the revised Junior Science syllabus has been devised. This is good practice as it enhances the standardisation of learning and teaching of Junior Science across the school. It is suggested that over time these plans could be further developed to include timeframes and the resources available for the learning and teaching of each topic. Assessment methods and exam preparation, as well as continual revision work, could also be included when and where appropriate. Subject syllabuses and Guidelines for Teachers should provide the basis for such detailed planning. Subject plans for TY include modules of sports science, ICT and science, meteorology and planning for entry to the Young Scientist and Technology exhibition. This opportunity to further develop the literacy of students across the scientific spectrum is highly commended. Programmes of work in the senior sciences have recently been commenced. This is praiseworthy and it is recommended that these be finalised in order to aid the sequencing of material and incorporate an appropriate balance between theory and practical work.
Communication is conducted both formally and informally among the teachers, thus establishing and maintaining collaboration. Formal meetings, which are held a number of times a year, are complemented by informal gatherings held as the need arises. While there is no science co-ordinator, informal collaboration ensures that resources are replenished on an informal basis. Consideration should be given to formalising the system for the management of resources in the laboratories with one teacher acting as the purchasing manager on a rotational basis. Laboratory access organisation provides further evidence of collegiality and collaboration. A high level of collaboration also exists between the principal and the Agricultural Science teacher, each of whom teaches a different section of the Leaving Certificate Agricultural Science syllabus to senior classes
Advance planning and preparation for the lessons observed were thorough and of high quality. Teaching materials, including chemicals, equipment and worksheets, which suited the needs and abilities of the students, were introduced to the lessons at appropriate times. Lessons observed were found to reflect syllabus requirements. The teachers’ willingness to share website resources that they have found effective in teaching, supports collaboration and collegiality in the planning and delivery of the curriculum.
In all classes visited, a positive atmosphere pertained. Students were relaxed, interested and focused on the work to hand. Very good teacher-student rapport and control in the classroom and laboratories contributed to a productive learning environment. Affirming and encouraging teacher attitudes also augmented student participation in the learning process. Laboratories were bright and their physical environments were enhanced through the display of a number of educational posters and plants. It is noteworthy that in one laboratory student work is displayed, thus further endorsing student achievement and participation. Consideration could be given to further developing this good practice, as it could also serve as useful learning tools.
The short-term planning for all of the lessons visited resulted in well-structured lessons which were student centred, and directed at a pace appropriate to the students. In most lessons, the correction of homework was used as the initial activity of a lesson, thus reviewing and consolidating prior learning.
Effective and diverse teaching methodologies were employed in the lessons observed. These included student practical, questioning, use of props and student worksheets. Teacher instruction was clear, competent and accurate. Whole-class teaching was used effectively at the start of lessons in order to set the scene and clarify the objectives and expected learning outcomes. In some instances the blackboard was used effectively to elucidate and reinforce significant points.
There were some good examples of the use of active-learning methodologies which were appropriate to students’ needs and abilities, and which resulted in a good balance between teacher input and student activity. There was evidence of good continuity from previous lessons by linking with, and building on, students’ prior knowledge and experience. This was particularly good in one lesson, where students examined the results of a previous investigation and discussed the conclusions. Very effective use of a range of relevant resources and props provided strong visual stimuli in all lessons. It was good to note the discrete role played by textbooks in general. Good links were made with everyday life to explain certain content. In one instance excellent use of an audiovisual stimulus, in the form of an old fire alarm, helped students to understand a particular concept. It is noteworthy that student worksheets were used to reinforce knowledge and understanding and facilitated the teacher in providing individual student support where necessary. Consideration might also be given to paired work where appropriate, thus facilitating peer-assisted learning and promoting student discussion.
Practical work was highly organised and students were supported in their work as their teacher circled the room. Students worked in pairs or groups of three, were confident and capable in setting up and completing the tasks and their practical skills were well developed. Teacher demonstration was used effectively to stimulate and engage students and develop the content of the lesson. It was also employed in an investigative manner as a means of preparing students for their practical activities. This is very good practice. While there was some evidence of the investigative approach to practical work, it is recommended that increased emphasis on this methodology should be adopted in junior cycle. This would further increase student motivation and enthusiasm. It would also provide opportunities for students to reflect on, and evaluate, their own work and progress. Due regard was given to safety procedures, with students automatically donning safety goggles and laboratory coats when required.
Questioning was used effectively in all lessons to engage students in the learning activity, to check understanding and evaluate student learning. It was also successfully used to draw on students’ previous knowledge of a topic and to aid the subsequent broadening of that topic. This is commended. A combination of open and more focused questions was used. Teachers’ good questioning skills ensured that all students were included and encouraged to give extended answers. The policy of directing questions to individual students, which generally speaking is employed by the teachers, is noted as good practice, and it is recommended that this be continued and further developed where appropriate. Students’ responses indicated good understanding and knowledge. Overall the quality of teaching and learning in Science was very good in the lessons observed.
Whole-school assessment methods follow regular lines in CBS. Charleville. All classes have Christmas examinations, with non-State examination classes also having summer examinations. Pre-Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations are also held for examination classes. In addition, midterm assessments are employed to determine student ongoing achievement. In one instance, interviews are held with students as a component of the formal assessments. This is excellent practice. It is significant that student project work is utilised as a mode of assessing progress in Agricultural Science during TY. The setting of common Christmas and summer examination papers, which occurs in some instances, is very good practice. It is recommended that this be expanded to all year groups where appropriate, as it helps to establish a common direction for the subject, whilst ensuring consistency and cohesiveness within the department.
A fine commitment to oral assessment of learning, both of material done as prescribed homework and of learning in the lesson timeframe itself, was observed. Teacher questions were, for the most part, answered fully and indicated a good level of understanding on the part of the students. There was evidence of good practice with regard to the regular setting, checking and in some instances monitoring of homework in the teaching of Science at the school. Written homework assignments enhance student learning and allow for student competence and progress to be assessed. It is good to note that some student copybooks illustrated a number of good examples of the desirable practice of teacher annotation, which reflects the principle of assessment for learning (AFL). Further information on AFL can be accessed at www.ncca.ie.
The lessons observed showed a good level of student achievement. Students are positive about Science, are enthusiastic about their learning in the main, and display a conscientious approach to homework. This is commended.
It is good to note that parents receive written reports following all formal examinations. In addition to these reports, ongoing student progress is also given to parents through annual parent-teacher meetings and the student’s journal. Parents may also meet with management and teaching staff by appointment. This is commended.
Practical notebooks are generally of a high standard. It is recommended that the good practice of assessing students’ practical work and laboratory notebooks as a component of the end-of-term examinations, which is employed in many instances, be introduced into all year groups. Such practice is encouraged as it reflects the assessment objectives of the Junior Certificate syllabus in particular. An aggregate mark that includes both practical and written components of the examination provides a more accurate indicator of a student’s ability in the subject. It also provides motivation for engagement by all students with the practical element of the course and ensures regular monitoring of student laboratory notebooks.
It must be pointed out that all the assessment methods in operation in this school are conducive to helping students achieve their maximum potential.
It is good to note that assessment results are recorded in teachers’ journals. This good practice helps to build a profile of students’ progress and achievement in the subject over a period of time. The principal performs an analysis of the State examination results, which is subsequently communicated to the relevant teachers. Management and staff are credited for putting the comprehensive system of monitoring under-performing students in place. Students are interviewed by the principal and a letter is sent to parents when students are felt to be not reaching their full potential. Parents may also meet with the principal by appointment. This is commended. In both Science-specific terms and at whole-school level, the assessment structures outlined above are conducive to promoting student achievement. From observation of lessons, examination of student work and interaction with students in the classes visited, it is evident that students fully engaged and are reaching optimum levels of achievement in the main.
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 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
The Board of Management of C.B.S. Charleville welcomes the report of the Inspectorate on the Teaching of Science at the school. The Board of Management recognises the positive tone of the report and the recognition of many commendable practices by the Science Department. The report, which was carried out in May 2006, is most encouraging and the very many positive features of the report are a great source of reassurance and support to Staff and Board of Management.
As acknowledged in the report, Science is in a very strong position in the school and the commitment of Management to the provision of a broad range of choices in Science education is evident in the options available to students to study Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Agricultural Science to Higher Level Leaving Certificate standard. The emphasis in the report on the professional approach taken to the teaching of Science in the school as well as the excellent rapport noted between teachers and students contribute enormously to a productive learning environment in the school.
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 following initiatives have now been implemented by School Management in line with the recommendations of the Inspectorate:
Firstly Management have made application under the 2007 Summer Work Scheme to provide appropriate ventilation and chemical storage facilities in the Science laboratories.
Secondly, the timetable for 2006/2007 school year and thereafter has included a double lesson per week allocated to the teaching of Science (Physics, Chemistry and Biology) in order to facilitate the further enhancement of practical skills and science process skills of the students. There has always been provision for the teaching of Agricultural Science within the Transition Year Programme as observed by the Science inspector.
Finally, subject meetings will focus on implementing the follow-up recommendation of the report. The storage of chemicals according to storage classifications will be comprehensively dealt with as part of the planning process within the context of Science Subject Department meetings. The recommendation to increase the emphasis on the investigative approach to practical work will also be addressed within this forum.