An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies
North Monastery Secondary School ,
North Monastery Road, Our Ladyís Mount, Cork
Roll number: 62530F
Date of inspection: 19 September 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies
This report has been written following a subject inspection in North Monastery Secondary School, Cork. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Materials Technology (Wood) (MTW) and Construction Studies (CS) and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of these subjects 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 deputy principal and the subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
North Monastery Secondary School continues the proud tradition of providing a broad education for the boys of the north side of Cork city and its surroundings. In addition to MTW and CS, the focus of this subject inspection, there is a broad range of technology subjects offered in the school, Technical Graphics and Metalwork in junior cycle and Technical Drawing and Engineering in senior cycle.
While informal planning meetings of the MTW and CS teaching team take place, it is recommended that this activity is given a more formal structure and is developed along the lines envisaged for subject department planning by the School Development Planning Initiative, www.sdpi.ie .
Given the imminent provision of extensive continuing professional development (CPD) as support for the introduction of new syllabuses in the technologies at senior cycle, it is urged that the MTW and CS subject teaching team, together with the teachers of the other technology subjects, be facilitated to take full advantage of the opportunities presented through the Technology Subjects Support Service, t4. Information may be accessed at† www.t4.ie .
The school is commended for providing ample time for the study of MTW and CS in the relevant subject-option groups. MTW is allocated four periods per week in each of the three years of junior cycle. These periods are configured as two double-period lessons which in all cases are well distributed across the week. The time allocated and its arrangement provides well for the requirements of the syllabus. In Transition Year there is one double period per week provided for the study of woodcraft. CS is allocated five periods per week in both years of senior cycle. The periods are configured as one double and three single-period lessons. Lessons are well distributed across the week and provide sufficient time for the effective completion of the syllabus. All class periods are of forty-five minute duration.
Students entering North Monastery in first year are presented with three choices of optional subjects. These subjects are arranged in three groups, MTW or Technical Graphics, Metalwork or Technical Graphics and Business or extra tuition in a number of subjects in the core curriculum. While this arrangement provides commendable flexibility in student choice, it might be further enhanced by providing for student experience of each subject prior to choices being made, thus supporting them in their decision. The opportunity could be created, following careful collaborative planning by the teaching team of the three technology subjects, MTW, Technical Graphics and Metalwork, to provide experience of each of these subjects, perhaps for three periods per week each, in first year. Collaborative planning could identify areas common to the syllabuses and agree on these being distributed across the first year programmes of the three subjects for added efficiency. While this arrangement would result in an increase of one class period in the time allocated to the technology subjects, this might be addressed by shortening the length of class period to forty minutes which would allow for a nine-period day in place of the current eight periods. It is certain that the extra periods made available in this way would increase flexibility in other areas of the timetable also.
The provision of an open choice of optional subjects for senior cycle students is commended. Students, towards the end of third year and Transition Year, are initially given a free choice of three subjects from those available in the senior cycle curriculum of the school, which includes CS, Technical Drawing and Engineering in the technologies. The most suitable subject-option blocks are then devised, on the basis of studentsí choices that emerge, to allow the greatest number of studentsí choices to be facilitated. It is possible in this way to satisfy the three subject preferences of almost all students. The board of management is urged to continue to make every effort to ensure that the teaching staff includes sufficient teachers of MTW and CS to satisfy the subject preferences of the students.
Students are well supported in making subject choices for senior cycle in a number of ways. Teachers make presentations on their subjects to third-year students. The choices to be made are discussed in class with the guidance teacher who also meets students individually. There are meetings for parents and students at which the options available are explained. This level of support for student choice is commended.
Appropriate class materials, tools and equipment are provided as required, within the resources available to the school, for the teaching of MTW and CS. Senior management and the board of management are commended for this provision. While there is not a specific budget allocated to the subjects, requested purchases are normally made on submission of a requisition form to the school office, following consultation, by either member of the subject teaching team. While the present arrangements work well, it is recommended, to further improve them, that the possibility of allocating an annual budget for materials and consumables be examined as a way to provide a further incentive for detailed subject-department planning. The allocation of such a budget, based on the typical annual cost of supplying materials and other consumables, would increase the incentive for careful planning by the subject department by providing it with more opportunities to prioritise purchases and to make savings from which it would benefit.
The school has two wood workshops, one of which is housed in the main school building while the other is in the older, technical-education building. On the day of the inspection both workshops were neat, tidy and well organised. The older workshop, which is bright and well ventilated, has many interesting features including fitted, purpose-made tool cabinets, glazed display cabinets and a distinctive wood-block floor. The board of management is urged to continue with its refurbishment plans, ideally conserving in the process the historic interior of this workshop which has the potential to continue to enhance the learning environment for both subjects, but especially for architectural awareness in CS.
Although there is a computer room in the school, this is not used in teaching or learning in MTW or CS. The high level of demand for the use of this information and communication technology (ICT) facility was cited as a reason for this. It is, however, very important, particularly given the importance of ICT in all facets of the world of technology, that all students of MTW and CS be facilitated and encouraged in its use. The use of computer aided design (CAD), both directly by students and as a teaching tool, is an essential part of the new syllabus for Design and Communication Graphics (DCG). Extensive CPD is being provided for all teachers of technology subjects in preparation for the introduction of new syllabuses, including CPD in CAD. A single parametric modelling CAD software package is to be identified shortly for use in all technology subjects. It is timely in these circumstances that CAD be introduced to all students of the technologies as soon as possible.
The subject teaching team is urged to become involved with the other technology-subject teachers and the senior management of the school to plan carefully for the acquisition, installation and use of ICT equipment which will come with the introduction of the new technology-subject syllabuses. It is recommended that thought be given to installing this equipment in a room large enough to accommodate more computers as they become available with the subsequent introduction of other technology-subject syllabuses. It is envisaged that such a room, used for the teaching of DCG, CAD and theory lessons, could provide a resource for all the technology subjects.
The teachers of MTW and CS work closely together when planning for materials and equipment and for subject-related concerns, such as scheduling of particular projects and lessons. This is mostly done informally. Such planning is also reviewed, although again informally. In order to build on and improve the effectiveness of existing planning practice, it is recommended that the subject teaching team develop a more formal approach to subject-department planning. Such planning would be enhanced by the involvement of all the teachers of the technologies to the benefit of the students. It is suggested that an effective way to facilitate such planning would be for the team of teachers involved in the technologies, following the suggested SDPI process, www.sdpi.ie, to select a convenor from among them, perhaps on an annual rotating basis. The convenor would be charged with convening meetings of the technologies teaching team, agreeing agendas and keeping a short account of decisions reached. Areas for consideration, in addition to general planning for materials and resources, would include the best approaches and teaching methodologies to be adopted, particularly in common areas of the syllabuses such as design processes and the production of sketches and drawings. It is recommended that the MTW and CS subject teaching team develop a more formal approach to subject-department planning in cooperation with the teachers of Metalwork, Engineering, Technical Graphics and Technical Drawing.
Each of the lessons visited in the course of the inspection was well prepared. All materials and equipment needed for the lessons were prepared and ready for use. Chalkboard and overhead projector transparencies were well prepared and effectively used in the lessons.
It is essential that CAD be introduced to all students of MTW and CS. Planning by the teachers of all the technology subjects for this introduction may best be done in tandem with planning for the introduction of the DCG syllabus.
The effective teaching of CAD may be divided into two stages. The first stage involves teaching students the use of the software which is most effectively undertaken where each student can have individual access to a computer. The second stage involves students using the software in a more self-directed way to complete their individual projects, when it is not envisaged that all students would use CAD concurrently. This use can be facilitated in a graphics or theory room, or indeed in the workshop, where some computers are available. In order to facilitate the first stage, which is likely to involve whole-class teaching of basic commands and approaches, the subject-teaching team and school management are urged to arrange, if technically feasible, for the installation of the CAD software package in the computer room, as soon as the package is identified. It is further urged that the computer room be made available for CAD lessons with students at junior and senior cycle during MTW and CS time. An added advantage of having the CAD software package installed in the computer room is that it can provide students with the opportunity to use the software during computer classes if a cross-curricular approach is taken, or indeed at other times if the computer room is available. Funding provided for the introduction of the DCG syllabus can provide for the upgrading of the ICT facilities in the graphics room which may also be available for the use of students of MTW and CS.
Safety notices and the demarcation of safe operational areas were observed in both wood workshops in the course of the inspection. While commending this good practice regarding the health and safety aspect of workshop management, it is urged that regulation personal protection equipment notices be erected adjacent to each machine to which they refer, together with notices listing the procedures for the safe use of the particular machine. It is also recommended, where this has not already been done, that general rules for safe behaviour within the workshop be displayed prominently. In the context of school workshops, safety signage and notices serve an educational function in addition to the communication of safety information. In light of this it is desirable that every opportunity is taken to draw studentsí attention to best practice in this regard. The display of notices to draw the studentsí attention to safe operational areas, and to the implications for studentsí working habits, is also encouraged. The Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post-primary Schools (State Claims Agency, Department of Education and Science, 2005), available on www.education.ie, should be consulted in detail when reviewing health and safety within the workshop.
In keeping with the centrality of student practical work in MTW and CS, the approach adopted in the practical lessons visited was based on teacher demonstration of practical woodwork skills, followed by the students undertaking the work. In all cases the quality of the demonstration of traditional practical skills was commendable. As students worked at their benches their teachers helped, affirmed or encouraged them, as appropriate to their needs, staying in close contact and dividing teaching time fairly between them, proportionate to their requirements. In one lesson visited, the students marked out and processed a model aeroplane, while in another students marked out and began processing a mirror frame. In both lessons, skilful questioning was used to elicit information from students, particularly during demonstrations and this helped to keep students actively engaged in the work being undertaken. Also commended is the use of demonstration to his peers by a student of a process already learnt in a previous lesson. The use of student demonstration in this way added to the studentsí interest and, combined with careful questioning, provided a very good learning and revision opportunity. While the quality of the work being undertaken was high, the student-design content was limited. It is urged that the centrality of individual student design work to the teaching of the MTW syllabus continue to be carefully preserved.
The purpose of each of the lessons visited was made clear from the outset. Lessons were well structured and were developed in a coherent and logical manner. While in general the lessons visited were well paced, in one case, as the lesson progressed, some students who had completed the particular stage of the project became a little restless as they waited for their peers to catch up. It is urged, particularly in the context of mixed ability classes, that the project work being undertaken by students continue to take account of their ability range and that a differentiated approach be taken. This is more easily achieved in conjunction with an individual student design approach, which has been recommended above. It is also recommended, where appropriate, that students work in groups. Teacher demonstration may then be provided when a group is ready, avoiding the danger of some students having to wait for others to catch up.
In the course of the inspection, the teaching of theory, observed at senior cycle, was successful, presenting the material coherently and making it accessible and appropriate for the students. The approach taken involved the students in reading from the text following which the teacher used skilled questioning to encourage the students to discus and contribute to the lesson from their own experience. In order to further enhance such lessons it is recommended that a range of strategies be adopted to bring variety to the studentsí active involvement. Strategies should vary to suit the topic being taught and the abilities and interests of the students. Where appropriate, students could work in groups to explore the material and then present the results of their exploration to their peers. Short, student-prepared debates on issues such as increasing housing density in the city or the building of one-off houses in the countryside could bring consideration of these and other issues to life. In general, the increased use of active learning approaches, including group work and differentiated learning as appropriate, is recommended, in particular in theory lessons.
In each of the lessons visited, there were good levels of cooperation and mutual respect between students and teachers and the atmosphere was at all times pleasant and conducive to learning. There was a natural discipline, which appeared intrinsic to the work of the groups and thus was willingly accepted. Students were secure and relaxed as they undertook work that was suitably interesting and challenging. The maintenance of such an atmosphere by the subject-teaching team is commended.
When questioned by the inspector, individual students showed an understanding of their work consistent with their ages and abilities and communicated this successfully within the subjects. Students generally remained engaged in the activities of each lesson and were affirmed by their teachers for work being successfully done.
There are formal house examinations in the North Monastery at Christmas and in summer. In addition, in State-examination years, students sit pre-examinations. In addition to these examinations, each piece of the studentsí project work is assessed on completion. These project-work assessments are recorded, averaged and aggregated with the examination marks to arrive at the Christmas and summer results. In order to further improve this good practice with regard to continuous assessment, it is urged that it become a little more formalised and standardised in the school. Adopting a common weighting of the continuous assessment element for all classes and making this known to students in advance can, with regular feedback on how their final result is likely to be affected, provide added encouragement and motivation. It is urged that the creative element of individual student design work continue to be an important part of the assessment of projects. The importance of placing due emphasis on the assessment of studentsí engagement with the design process is clear from both the MTW syllabus and assessment by the State Examinations Commission.
In addition to the more formal assessment of student achievement, it was notable that teachers interacted in a relaxed way with students as they completed their work in class. Students were affirmed for work well done. While the approach was firm when required, it was never unkind and the studentsí self-esteem and sense of achievement were supported at all times.
Homework was checked and set in the course of the lessons visited. In instances where students failed to present homework, they were corrected firmly but fairly and given a deadline to present the work by the start of school next morning. Failure would result in notes being entered in the studentís journal. It is commended that students were encouraged in this way to complete their work rather than being immediately referred to formal discipline procedures.
In addition to the sending of formal, computerised school reports at Christmas and in summer, effective home-school communication is maintained by parent-teacher meetings held yearly for each year group. At other times, parents are encouraged to come and meet the teachers and progress reports are available to them on request. Studentsí homework journals provide another mode of communication between the teachers and parents. Teachers keep records of studentsí attendance, achievement and homework in their teacher diaries.
Students showed high levels of interest in the work in which they were involved in each of the lessons visited. The teachers placed appropriate emphasis on the development of traditional woodworking skills and this helped the studentsí development of their skills and knowledge to a level appropriate to their age and ability. The students showed enthusiasm and engagement with the respective subjects when questioned and it was evident overall that they were achieving satisfactory progress.
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:
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the teachers of Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies and the deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.