An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta

 

Department of Education and Science

Subject Inspection of Science and Biology

REPORT

 

Dundalk Grammar School

Dundalk, County Louth

Roll number: 63920A

 

 

Date of inspection: 1 October 2007

Date of issue of report: 21 February 2008

 

 

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

School Response to the Report

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Biology

 

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Dundalk Grammar School. 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 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 principal and subject teachers. 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.

 

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

Science is a core subject at Junior Certificate level in the school. At senior cycle, there is a compulsory Transition Year (TY) which contains modules in Chemistry, Biology, Physics and Agricultural Science as well as a cross-curricular course on Health Education. At the end of fourth year the school offers students a choice of the established Leaving Certificate or the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). Chemistry, Biology, Physics and Agricultural Science are available to students entering fifth year and it is commendable that the option blocks are based each year on studentsí preferences. During the evaluation, option blocks from the previous senior cycle were observed and commendably, one of each of the science subjects was offered in each of the option blocks, with Biology, the most popular option, appearing in two blocks. This level of choice around the science subjects is commendable.

 

The time allocated to all Junior Certificate science and Leaving Certificate biology classes in Dundalk Grammar School is appropriate and in line with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) recommendations. Double periods are allocated to all class groups and it is good practice that double periods, where possible, are held in a laboratory. Plans for extension and refurbishment of the older section of the school building are currently with the Planning and Building Unit of the Department of Education and Science. This work includes the provision of two new science laboratories and preparation areas, which hopefully will alleviate some of the demand for access to the existing laboratories.

 

The school has a health and safety statement which is currently under review. A laboratory code of behaviour is displayed on the notice board in the laboratories, at the end of each row of desks in the laboratory and in some of the studentsí notebooks. It is recommended that the laboratory code of behaviour be added to all science notebooks. At the beginning of the school year, first year students are briefed on health and safety in the laboratory and the code of practice in the laboratory. This good practice should be extended to all year groups. There is scope to add this code, including the contract for students, to the school journal in future. A range of health and safety equipment was observed in the laboratories including a first aid kit, fire extinguisher, fire blanket, eye wash kit and isolation switches for electricity. The gas control for one of the laboratories is currently outside the fire exit door. In the interests of health and safety, it is recommended that a gas isolation switch be installed adjacent to the teacherís desk in the laboratory.

 

Access to the laboratories is negotiated informally between the science teachers who have drawn up a laboratory timetable. The laboratories contain a good supply of materials and equipment. All laboratories visited contain an impressive display of charts, student generated posters and 3D models. All chemicals are held in two locked preparation and storage areas with adequate ventilation. There is appropriate storage for flammable chemicals and it is good to note that a colour-coded scheme is used for the organisation of the chemicals. Many of the materials and resources required for the mandatory Junior Certificate practicals have been organised into individual kits. This level of organisation is laudable.

 

Members of the science team have benefited from opportunities for continuing professional development during national in-service training for the revised Leaving Certificate biology and Junior Certificate science syllabuses. Management is to be commended for its commitment to facilitating this in-service and for its on-going consideration in both identifying and supporting staff training needs.

 

Planning and preparation

 

The school, reportedly, has a long history of engagement with the School Development Planning Initiative and curriculum planning for Junior Certificate Science and Leaving Certificate Biology is well established. Management supports the planning process by facilitating subject department meetings. Formal meetings of the science department have taken place and minutes were available for these. It is recommended that the minutes of the science departmentís planning meetings be forwarded to management. The subject department is effectively co-ordinated by a subject convenor acting in a voluntary capacity. Responsibilities have been delegated among members of the science team and some have undertaken to put together kits for the mandatory practicals while another team member is converting science videos to DVD. It is suggested that the science team keeps in mind the responsibilities held by the subject convenor and gives consideration to implementing a process whereby the duty is rotated on a one or two year basis. Many valuable informal meetings of the science team take place on a regular basis. This practice is laudable.

 

Transition Year planning documentation was available for all four of the science modules in which emphasis was placed on building a bridge between the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate programmes. It is commendable that planning for teaching and learning strategies included a Ďhands oní approach involving research, investigations, project work, individual presentations, puzzles and role-plays.

 

Common long-term plans were available within Junior Certificate Science and within Leaving Certificate Biology. These plans were devised collaboratively by the science team and a copy of the plans is retained by each team member. The plans are used as working documents and the science team reported that they are reviewed at the end of each year. This was evidenced in the provision of the original set of plans for a year group and the revised plans. It is commendable that the science team uses the chief examinerís report and marking schemes to inform the planning process. Planning documentation contained a list of topics and practical work planned for each year group. It is good practice that these lists are also distributed to students at the beginning of the school year. Senior students are encouraged to use the online syllabus outline and other forms of revision assistance on the internet. Such good practices provide students with a good overview of the course and encourage them to plan for their own revision. To expand on the good planning observed, it is recommended that the science department puts together a three-year developmental plan which could address short and long term goals such as the build up of more technological resources as well as prioritising areas for development and refurbishment within the laboratories.

 

In the classes observed there was evidence of good short-term planning. Appropriate materials and resources necessary for each lesson had been prepared in advance. This level of preparation contributed to the quality of teaching and learning and this is to be commended. It is laudable that a number of shared resources have been developed by the science team which include PowerPoint presentations, pictures and animations. The science team has saved these on external hard drives so that the resources can be moved from one computer to another with ease.

Teaching and learning

 

The evaluation of Junior Certificate Science and Leaving Certificate Biology at Dundalk Grammar School commenced with a meeting with the teachers of Science and Biology. Following this meeting, three first-year classes, one second-year class and two fifth-year classes were visited. Lessons observed included topics such as forces, states of matter, magnification and the microscope.

 

Lessons generally began with a roll call. Teachers usually shared the aim of the lesson with the students at the outset and this is good practice. In one lesson the topic was introduced through a brief history of the microscope where different techniques down the ages were discussed. All lessons observed benefited from good short term planning and all materials to be used were prepared in advance.

A range of teaching methodologies was employed during the course of lessons observed and these included pair work, group work, board work, overhead projector (OHP) transparencies, investigative practical work, whole-class discussions, questioning, PowerPoint presentations and animations. These were generally varied throughout the lessons and they were effective in engaging students and encouraging their attention and participation. This is good practice. The instruction provided in the lessons observed was both clear and concise. Team teaching had been used as a methodology in the past and was reported as being very effective. This is a beneficial approach and when timetabling, management is advised to explore its potential reintroduction into the teaching schedule.

 

The classes observed had a disciplined atmosphere with a clear code of behaviour. A positive teacher-student rapport was evident throughout the lessons particularly characterised by the good-humoured banter surrounding the many discussions which took place. Students were attentive, interested and keen to participate well in the learning processes. Generally, students had a good understanding of the task in hand and displayed good teamwork skills in practical work. Good classroom management skills were observed, particularly in one lesson where the class was split into three groups and each group assigned a particular workstation. The teacher moved around the groups checking, directing and encouraging students. After a period of time the groups were then asked to rotate workstations and complete another task. This method proved particularly effective in engaging students for short periods in varied tasks as well as maximising the available resources in the room.

 

Teachers regularly revised and explained the more difficult concepts that arose over the course of lessons. This approach to the delivery of lesson content contributed to greatly enhanced student learning in each of the lessons. In general, there was an appropriate pace to the lessons and this facilitates student learning. Students displayed a sense of security in seeking clarification or assistance during lessons. Teachersí movement around the room during lessons ensured that all students remained on task and provided opportunities for students to seek individual help in a supportive structure. Very good use was made of praise to affirm studentsí efforts.

 

Good use of questioning was observed, either to individual named students or to the whole class group. This was particularly effective in checking that learning was taking place. Students were encouraged to seek clarification from their teacher wherever necessary. The science laboratories visited were enhanced by a display of educational posters and students work. This is commendable as it promotes a sense of student ownership and student responsibility for the creation of a stimulating learning environment.

Assessment

 

A range of assessment strategies is utilised in the school, including questioning, observation, worksheets, spelling tests, practical write-ups and drawings. Writing and learning homework is assigned where appropriate and students are expected to note this in their diaries at the end of class. Homework tasks observed were checked and dated regularly. Some books showed evidence of annotation and formative feedback. This is good practice. It is suggested that the science team explores assessment for learning (AfL) practices such as comment-marking and formative feedback. Information on AfL is available on the NCCA website www.ncca.ie.

 

Evidence in the science department planning folder indicated that class tests are held on a regular basis and common tests are administered at Christmas and summer for all year groups. This is good practice. The practice of including a percentage of the total marks for the standard of work in the practical notebooks or the completion of an investigation, in line with the revised Junior Certificate science examination, was discussed at the post evaluation meeting. Some teachers have been using this as a method of assessment and it is recommended that it be incorporated into the common end-of-year tests for all year groups, as appropriate.

 

It was noted that an up-to-date record of mandatory Junior Certificate practical write-ups was maintained in the student laboratory notebooks. Most notebooks observed were of a good standard and the majority showed evidence of checking and annotation. This is a good way of encouraging students and giving direction. As this is an important aspect of the revised Junior Certificate science syllabus, attention given to this exercise is well-justified.

 

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

         The time allocated to all Junior Certificate science and Leaving Certificate biology classes in Dundalk Grammar School is appropriate and in line with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) recommendations.

 

         Laboratory chemicals are held in two locked preparation and storage areas with adequate ventilation. Many of the materials and resources required for the mandatory Junior Certificate practicals have been organised into individual kits. This level of organisation is laudable.

 

         Management supports the planning process by facilitating subject department meetings. Formal meetings of the science department have taken place and minutes were available for these.

 

         Common long-term plans were available within Junior Certificate Science and within Leaving Certificate Biology. These plans were devised collaboratively by the science team and a copy of the plans is retained by each team member. The plans are used as working documents and the science team reported that they are reviewed at the end of each year.

 

         The classes observed had a disciplined atmosphere with a clear code of behaviour. A positive teacher-student rapport was evident throughout the lessons particularly characterised by the good-humoured banter surrounding the many discussions which took place.

 

         Students displayed a sense of security in seeking clarification or assistance during lessons.

 

         The science laboratories visited were enhanced by a display of educational posters and studentsí work.

 

         Homework tasks observed were checked and dated regularly.

 

 

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

 

         A laboratory code of behaviour is displayed on the notice board in the laboratories, at the end of each row of desks in the laboratory and in some of the studentsí notebooks. It is recommended that the laboratory code of behaviour be added to all science notebooks.

 

         In the interests of health and safety, it is recommended that a gas isolation switch be installed adjacent to the teacherís desk in the laboratory.

 

         It is recommended that minutes of the science departmentís planning meetings be forwarded to management.

 

         To expand on the good planning observed, it is recommended that the science department puts together a three-year developmental plan which could address short and long term goals such as the build up of more technological resources as well as prioritising areas for development and refurbishment within the laboratories.

 

         The practice of including a percentage of the total marks for the standard of work in the practical notebooks or the completion of an investigation, in line with the revised Junior Certificate science examination was discussed at the post evaluation meeting. Some teachers have been using this as a method of assessment and it is recommended that it be incorporated into the common end-of-year tests for all year groups, as appropriate.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

Area 1:† Observations on the content of the inspection report

 

The school welcomed the professional and positive approach that underlay the recent subject inspection.† The Board is appreciative of, and values, the recommendations offered.

 

Area 2:†† Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the†† inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection

 

q       Current practice is that all students commencing a new science programme (1st Year and 5th Year) are provided with a Laboratory Code of Behaviour which is to be inserted in science notebooks.† In future, where students acquire an additional science notebook, a further copy of the code will be provided for insertion therein.† Consideration will also be given to including the Laboratory Code in the contents of the Student Journal when it is next revised.

 

q       The installation of a gas isolation valve is presently being undertaken.†

 

q       The Inspector commented favourably on the collegiality and frequency of meetings within the Science Department.† While the provision of verbal feedback on such meetings has been the norm heretofore, from now on, the written minutes of such meetings will also be provided to the Headmaster.

 

q       The positive comment of the Inspector on the level of planning within the Science Department is appreciated.† The recommendation to provide a science specific 3 Year plan has been noted, and in this regard, science staff are anticipating the provision of two new laboratories, the planning of which is already at an advanced stage with the Building and Planning Unit of the Department of Education and Science.† In the interim the school has upgraded its existing technological facilities, and has sought grant assistance for further development.

 

q       The Science Department is actively examining the allocation of a fraction of end of term examination marks, perhaps 10%, towards results based on practical notebooks/experiments.