An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of Chemistry and Science

REPORT

 

Presentation College, Athenry

County Galway

Roll number: 62870G

 

Date of inspection: 13 December 2006

Date of issue of report:  26 April 2007

 

 

 

 

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

 

 

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Presentation College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Chemistry and Science 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 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 on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

Presentation College is a co-educational, post-primary school under the trusteeship of the Presentation Order and is located in the town of Athenry, Co. Galway. The school caters for a diversity of students from a wide geographic area and strives to provide a high quality education for all its students.

 

There is good support for newly appointed teachers. There is an established induction process for newly appointed teachers and this is to be commended. The science teachers have considered the challenges faced by newly appointed teachers and they provide ongoing collegial support to them. Newly appointed teachers are involved in team teaching with an established science teacher, especially during the first term of the academic year. This supportive practice is to be commended.

 

The science subjects offered by the school are Junior Certificate (JC) Science, Transition Year (TY) Science, Leaving Certificate (LC) Agricultural Science, LC Biology, LC Chemistry, and LC Physics. The school also offers the single subject LC Physics and Chemistry outside of timetabled hours. Students may therefore study the complete range of science subjects available at junior cycle and at senior cycle and this shows good support for the study of science subjects.

 

All students study Science during first year. It is reported that this includes the students who are attending the resource class. This is highly commended. At the end of first year, students select their subjects for the Junior Certificate examination and Science is among the optional subjects available to them. Based on the numbers supplied by the school it is evident that there is a good uptake of Science.

 

The school supports the teaching of Science by creating a greater number of class groups for Science than for other subjects. This means that science classes have fewer students and this is helpful to teachers when engaging students in investigative, experimental work.

 

Analysis of the timetable information supplied and subsequent discussion with the principal revealed that the tuition time at junior cycle for Science is in accordance with the syllabus requirements. The time allocation for Chemistry consists of three single class periods and one double class period weekly during fifth year and four single class periods and one double class period during sixth year. This allocation meets the requirements of the syllabus. The time allocation for Chemistry and for Science includes provision of double class periods and this is wholly appropriate.

 

The school offers a TY programme. An outline of the programme was viewed. An innovative approach has been taken to designing the programme. It covers areas such as stem cells, participation in the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition project, ethics in Science, the periodic table, evolution, an ecosystem research project, astronomy, and aerodynamics. There is a large emphasis on project work and practical work during the TY science programme and this is to be commended. The programme also contains subject sampling and this is useful in informing students in advance of making their senior-cycle subject choices.

 

It is reported that teachers are assigned to teach classes on a rotational basis and this is appropriate as each teacher has an opportunity to teach at a variety of levels.

 

All science classes and chemistry classes are of mixed ability. Classes generally retain the same science teacher throughout junior cycle and the same chemistry teacher throughout senior cycle. This helps to ensure continuity of student learning.

 

The school strives to facilitate all students in their subject choices for junior cycle and for senior cycle. It is reported that students are encouraged to study science subjects by provision of formal guidance counselling and through information disseminated at open nights for students and parents. The school operates a “best-fit” system where subject options are determined by students’ choices. This system shows how the school works to support students’ individual learning requirements and is commended.

 

The science teachers describe a high level of commitment, awareness and sensitivity in relation to working with students with special educational needs. Members of the school’s learning support team support the science teachers in their work. The science staff is enthusiastic to continue to build on the good work done in collaboration with the school’s learning support team and this is to be encouraged. Thus, the science teachers are encouraged to further develop liaison with the school’s learning support team in relation to the exchange of strategies and methodologies for use with students with special educational needs.

 

There are two laboratories in the school and they have an adjoining preparation area. These facilities were viewed. Good work has been done by the science teachers in colour coding chemicals in accordance with Department of Education and Science guidelines. With the large number of science subjects offered by the school there is pressure on the timetable to facilitate class groups in the laboratories. It is reported that junior-cycle science classes only visit the laboratory once every three weeks and this is achieved through a rota system. Despite the best efforts of teachers, this has a potentially large impact on students’ learning. Thus, access to laboratory space is an issue of fundamental significance in this school. It is recommended that the board of management continue to plan for achieving additional laboratory space.

 

There is an annual budget for the purchase of equipment and materials and the science teachers report satisfaction with the level of resources available to them. The purchase of resources is managed by a co-ordinator and the science teachers report that the system is operating successfully.

 

The school, appropriately, has a health and safety statement. It has been reviewed annually and this good practice is commended. It is reported that the science teachers are involved in the annual review and this is appropriate.

 

There is a satisfactory amount of information and communications technology (ICT) resources available to the science teachers. These resources include a computer and data projector in each laboratory and data logging equipment. Interview revealed that the science teachers are enthusiastic to further develop the use of ICT in the teaching and learning of science subjects and this is to be encouraged. The school has instituted a laptop computer initiative where teachers who wish to purchase a laptop computer are assisted through a group purchase scheme and through a small subvention from the board of management. The high level of enthusiasm among teachers to use ICT is evident from the fact that the laptop computer initiative is oversubscribed. The school has also supported teachers in studying for the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL). The school’s support for teachers in developing the use of ICT in teaching and learning is commended.

 

There is a culture of support in the school for teachers’ continuing professional development (CPD). All science teachers have been facilitated in attending relevant in-service education courses. Teachers are supported by the school in becoming members of the relevant subject associations. The school actively encourages staff to engage in further education and a significant number of teachers have undertaken the Higher Diploma in School Development Planning. Teachers are facilitated in their studies through flexible timetabling, subject to the needs of the school. Some staff members have been involved in the Science Teacher Assistant Researchers (STARS) programme funded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), www.sfi.ie. The culture of support for teachers’ CPD is further evidenced by the fact that the school has provided whole-staff in-service education on school self-evaluation, guidance for the whole school, differentiation in teaching and learning, and assessment for learning. The high level of support the school provides for teachers’ CPD is commended.

Planning and preparation

 

The science teachers work very well together. There is a strong sense of collaboration and positive teamwork. This is further supported by the high regard in which senior school management holds the science staff. The positive spirit of teamwork is further supported by the fact that each science teacher in turn acts as co-ordinator for the department. This develops a sense of collective responsibility for planning work in the sciences and contributes to teachers’ CPD by offering opportunities to develop management and leadership skills.

 

The science teachers meet regularly. A record of these meetings is kept and any issues arising are progressed. These good practices are commended. In addition, the science teachers meet informally to plan and prepare for the teaching and learning of science subjects. Because of the lack of timetabled access to laboratory facilities, close collaboration and liaison is necessary to ensure the smooth running of the science department. Interview with the science teachers and examination of minutes of meetings showed that the science department operates in an efficient and well-organised manner and this is attributed to the high level of communication among the science teachers and their ongoing commitment to the teaching and learning of science subjects.

 

A copy of the Science plan and a copy of the Chemistry plan were viewed. They are comprehensive documents and good work has been done in drafting them. It is commendable that these plans are actively and regularly reviewed. Documentation to demonstrate the consideration that the science teachers have given the plans during review was viewed. This showed that the science teachers are reflective and progressive in their planning work.

 

All lessons observed were appropriate to the relevant syllabus and all materials were to hand and had been prepared in advance. In some lessons, teachers presented individual lesson plans and where this occurred, the plan showed that teachers had planned in a conscientious and thorough manner. The science teachers are commended for their good work in planning and preparing for the teaching of their students.

Teaching and learning

 

The methodologies observed included use of questioning, video, overhead projection slides, worksheets, ICT presentation, whiteboard, teacher-led demonstration, student note taking, and exposition and explanation. These methodologies were used appropriately to aid students’ learning. Teachers focused on the key learning objectives for each lesson and these objectives were reinforced appropriately by using a variety of methodologies.

 

Questioning was the main teaching methodology observed. It was used to assess students’ knowledge and understanding of the topics under study. Good use was made of recall-based questioning and of higher-order questioning. In particular, higher-order questioning was used effectively to challenge students to consider the concepts being taught and so develop their understanding.

 

In lessons where new terminology was introduced, teachers took care to explain the new terminology and to ensure that students were comfortable with its use. In lessons observed, teachers sought to link the lesson material with students’ own experiences and this helped students in developing their understanding of new concepts. Where calculations were required, good practice was evident, as teachers worked though each line of the calculation, explaining to students the origin of each number and mathematical operation.

 

Students benefited from a high level of individual attention from their teachers. Lessons were well paced and students were engaged and participative in their learning. A notable feature of lessons observed was a strong sense of teacher-led enthusiasm for the study of Science and Chemistry.

 

In all lessons observed there was a positive classroom atmosphere. Students were addressed by name and discipline was appropriately and sensitively maintained. It was evident that students and teachers enjoy good relationships based on mutual respect. Students’ responses were encouraged and accepted by their teachers. Good practices such as regular use of affirmation of students’ responses and efforts contributed to the positive learning atmosphere.

 

The science laboratories benefit from displays of scientific posters, charts and students’ work. This helps to create an atmosphere of a scientific learning space and is to be commended.

 

Interaction between the inspector and students and observation of students’ contributions during lessons showed that students, relative to their year groups and abilities, had good knowledge and understanding of the topics taught in the lessons observed.

Assessment

 

Students are assessed regularly using a mixture of class-based assessments and year-group assessments. The results of these assessments are sent home periodically. These practices are appropriate.

 

The school values frequent home-school communication and endeavours to keep parents or guardians informed of the work of the school and of their sons’ or daughters’ progress through use of the student journal, examination reports, student-parent-teacher meetings, information evenings, meetings for class groups, academic monitors, year heads, meetings with the principal and deputy principal and the parents’ association.

 

Samples of students’ copybooks were viewed. These showed good practice in the use of affirmative comments and formative feedback to students. However, it was noted that despite the good work done by teachers in monitoring and commenting on copybooks that not all students comply with the directions given in the comments. In addition, some students do not always correct their homework. All students should be encouraged to focus on correcting their own work and on addressing any issues arising from teachers’ correction of their work. Regular correction of homework and classwork by students with the inclusion of the correct answer where an error has occurred creates a useful learning and revision aid.

 

Good practice was noted where students write up their experiments in their own words and this is to be commended as it enables students to develop their scientific literacy and to create a personal record of the experimental work completed. It is encouraged that this practice be extended to all class groups. In helping to develop students’ planning skills, all students should develop the practice of including in their write up a brief description of the planning they undertook in advance of the experimental work. Analysis of students’ copybooks showed that despite the lack of timetabled access to laboratory facilities students have still completed a generally satisfactory number of experiments.

 

The science teachers use common assessments regularly. Common assessment is useful as it supports a positive spirit of teamwork, enables comparison of students’ attainment across class groups and enables teachers to share best practice to further improve students’ learning. The school has established a culture of self-evaluation where subject departments analyse the results obtained by students in the State examinations. This is especially valuable as it supports teachers in their planning for teaching and learning and enables them to reflect on the outcomes of teaching. This is to be commended.

 

Innovative practice in the assessment of the TY science programme was noted. Students’ final result is an average of the project work completed during the year. This means that students gain credit for the practical skills that they have acquired. In addition, students in other year groups gain credit in their year-group examinations based on the write up of experimental work in their copies. This shows that teachers value the performance of experimental work by students and that students are rewarded for the completion of this work.

 

It is noted from the minutes of science meetings that the teachers are investigating the use of additional assessment modes for science subjects. The assessment modes that have been considered are based on the principles of assessment for learning. Assessment for learning is formative in its nature. It acknowledges and affirms where students have been successful and identifies constructively where and how students might improve their learning. The science teachers have done good work in compiling a list of additional assessment modes that they will trial and each teacher has undertaken to trial a new mode of assessment. In building on this good work, the science teachers are encouraged to consider further assessment strategies that give credit for the skills gained by students in performing experimental work. The introduction of additional modes of assessment that support the current good practices is to be commended and the good work of the science teachers in this area is to be encouraged.

 

The science teachers give generously of their time to support science-related extra-curricular activities. They are involved in organising events and in supporting students’ participation in activities such as the school’s open night, Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition projects, science quizzes, forensics projects, Galway Science Fair, STARS, Ballygowan Environmental Awards, and educational trips with students. The dedication and commitment of the science staff is acknowledged and commended.

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

  • The science teachers are professional and dedicated.
  • The students were engaged in their learning.
  • There was a positive classroom atmosphere in the lessons observed.
  • The science teachers describe a high level of commitment, awareness and sensitivity in relation to working with students with special educational needs.
  • There are comprehensive subject plans in place and there are good structures that support the planning process.
  • The science teachers work well together in a collaborative and collegial manner.
  • Students may study the complete range of science subjects available at junior cycle and at senior cycle and this shows good support for the study of science subjects.
  • The TY science programme is innovative.
  • There is good support for teachers’ CPD.
  • There is good support for students’ participation in science-related extra-curricular activities.

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

  • In building on the good work done to date, the science teachers are encouraged to further develop collaboration with the school’s learning support team in relation to the exchange of strategies and methodologies for use with students with special educational needs.
  • The science teachers are enthusiastic to further develop the use of ICT in the teaching and learning of science subjects and this is to be encouraged.
  • It is recommended that the board of management continue to plan for achieving additional laboratory space.

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Chemistry and Science and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.