An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science
Saint Clementís College
South Circular Road, Limerick
Roll number: 64220A
Date of inspection: 11 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 St Clementís College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in 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 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, deputy 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.
Science is a core subject at junior cycle in this school. At senior cycle, students may study Leaving Certificate Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. Subject choice at senior cycle is student driven. This is good practice. Students are supported in their choice of subjects for senior cycle by provision of guidance counselling and this is appropriate. The school uses open nights to inform parents of matters relating to studentsí senior-cycle subject choices. Maintaining good home-school communication and informing parents on such matters is good practice and is commended.
The school offers the Transition Year programme and all students follow this programme. It contains modules of all three Science subjects offered at senior cycle. This is helpful as this exposure to Science subjects ensures that studentsí subsequent senior-cycle subject choices are better informed.
The uptake of Science subjects at senior cycle is generally good. Physics is the most popular choice, Biology the next most popular choice and Chemistry is studentsí least popular choice of Science subject. The subject planning process could be used to consider ways of continuing to support and encourage students in choosing Science subjects at senior cycle.
There are seven Science teachers in the school. At the time of the inspection visit, four of these teachers were teaching junior-cycle Science. It would be valuable to share among all teachers of Science subjects the experience acquired during the teaching of the revised junior-cycle syllabus. The sharing of such experience could be integrated in the subject planning process and might beneficially inform any teachers at senior cycle who are not teaching Science of studentsí prior learning experiences at junior cycle.
The total time allocation for Science is four forty-minute class periods per week for each year of junior cycle. This satisfies the relevant recommendation of the syllabus and circular letters M7/03 and M42/04. It is noted that this time allocation does not include provision of double class periods. The provision of a weekly double class period is recommended by the syllabus and circular letters to facilitate performance of practical, investigative activities by students. Studentsí participation in practical activities would be optimised by the provision of a weekly double class period. Thus, it is recommended that the school review the current allocation of time for Science to include provision of a weekly double-class period.
The school has two Science laboratories and there is an adjoining preparation area. These facilities were viewed during the inspection. Good work has been done in the preparation area in storing and organising equipment and chemicals. The laboratories were clean and bright rooms. There was good storage space in both rooms. It would be useful to display basic scientific apparatus and glassware where there is space to do so. Such a display would provide a useful learning resource, enabling teachers to remind students of the appearance of equipment and would further enhance the sense of a scientific learning space. Both rooms benefited from the display of some scientific charts and posters. Wall space for such displays was more limited in one room than the other. It is encouraged that the available space be used for display of recent student work as well as relevant scientific charts and posters. Regular displays of recent student work contributes to studentsí motivation and can provide useful learning resources, such as word banks, mind maps, coloured diagrams, and project work.
The school provides supports for students with special educational needs and the Science staff attaches importance to meeting the needs of these students. One support highlighted during the inspection was the provision of small class groupings during first year. It is reported that students with special educational needs are withdrawn from classes for learning support. The use of visual aids was also offered as an example of varied teaching methodologies used with students with special educational needs. It was reported that some students have significant English language difficulties. Teachers gain information on which students have special education needs, primarily, from the relevant dean for the year group. Teachers are aware of educational psychological assessment reports that have been completed for individual students and it is encouraged that all teachers access the necessary information from these reports to support their work with students. In continuing to support teachers in their work with students with special educational needs, it is recommended that the school engage with the Special Education Support Service (SESS), www.sess.ie, to enhance and develop existing strategies and practices.
The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) resources available for the teaching of Science include a data projector, desktop computer, and data logging equipment. Use of relevant Junior Science Support Service (JSSS) ICT-based materials was reported. With the advent of broadband internet connection, it is recommended that the Science staff plan for greater integration of ICT to assist in optimising studentsí learning experiences.
The school has a health and safety statement that was recently reviewed. Regular review of the health and safety statement, on an annual basis or more regularly as needs arise is good practice and is encouraged.
Science classes are of mixed ability in second and third year and class groupings are banded in first year. Classes generally retain the same teacher during junior cycle. The practice of retaining the same teacher supports continuity of learning and is good practice.
There is good support for teachersí continuing professional development. Teachers have been facilitated in attending relevant in-service education courses. Due to a recent change in internal teacher deployment, not all teachers currently teaching Science have attended all of the JSSS in-service education courses. Where this occurs, liaison with the teachers who have attended the in-service education courses and accessing the JSSS website, www.juniorscience.ie, for relevant support materials is advised. The school supports the Science teachersí involvement in relevant professional associations and pays the relevant association membership fees on behalf of teachers.
Work in school development planning is progressing and policies in areas such as admissions, pastoral care, anti-bullying, and homework are in place.
The Science staff works well together. A co-ordinator of Science is in place and this is a voluntary position. The Science teachers meet formally and informally to plan for the teaching and learning of Science. Good work has been done in the creation of a Science plan. It is advised that all teachers should have a copy of the plan. It is encouraged that the Science staff builds on the good work achieved in subject planning by focusing on developing the range of classroom strategies and methodologies used, in the context of mixed ability groupings.
All lessons observed were appropriate to the syllabus and there was good individual lesson planning and preparation.
A variety of teaching methodologies was observed. These included questioning, use of whiteboard, use of ICT, use of models, explanation, and discussion.
Directed questioning was the main questioning style used. This style effectively engaged students in the class topics under study and enabled teachers to assess student understanding. The majority of questions used were recall-based. Greater integration of higher-order questions to encourage and develop studentsí analytical, creative, and problem-solving thinking skills would complement the use of recall-based questions and is encouraged.
The use of the whiteboard to illustrate scientific diagrams and to highlight key learning points was noted and is good practice. In some lessons observed, colour diagrams were used. The use of colour was helpful in enabling students to identify different components within the diagram.
ICT was used in one lesson observed and its use stimulated studentsí interest and provided an engaging, visual, learning stimulus.
In some lessons, models were used to support the teaching of the topics under study and these were used effectively and appropriately.
In some lessons observed there were a significant number of students with special learning needs. Appropriate to these needs, good practice was observed where teachers used regular repetition and reinforcement to focus student learning on the key learning objectives. This focus on key learning objectives is valuable and it is encouraged, particularly in lessons where much information is to be disseminated, that students be made aware of the intended key learning objectives at the beginning of the lesson.
Emphasis on linking learning with studentsí prior experiences and with other curricular areas was observed in a number of lessons. This practice helped to ground the topics under study in studentsí existing knowledge and experiences and served to render the concepts studied more accessible to students.
Established classroom routines were noted in the lessons visited and these contributed to good classroom management. Lessons generally began with the oral correction of previously assigned homework. Homework was a feature of all lessons observed and this is good practice as it provides opportunities to reinforce learning, motivate further learning, and allows feedback to teachers and students.
Affirmation was a very positive feature of the lessons observed. Teachers encouraged studentsí responses. Studentsí responses and questions were dealt with positively and sensitively. In all lessons observed, students were addressed by name and there was good rapport between students and teachers.
Students were attentive and there was good discipline during the lessons observed. Students were enthusiastic to contribute and participate in almost all lessons observed. Where levels of student interaction and participation need further encouragement this could be achieved by greater variety in the teaching strategies used.
Teachers strove to meet studentsí individual learning needs. In some lessons observed, teachers moved among the students as the lessons progressed and as students worked. This proximity enabled teachers to respond to studentsí needs, to ensure that students were on task, and to gain feedback on studentsí individual progress. This is good practice.
Interaction between the inspector and students revealed that students had good levels of interest in Science. Observation of studentsí responses to teachersí questions, of questions posed by students and discussions between the inspector and students showed that students in all lessons visited had generally good levels of knowledge and understanding of the topics studied and that students had been successful in their learning.
Studentsí progress is assessed regularly and reports are sent home periodically. This is appropriate. Additionally, parents are informed of studentsí progress and of school-related matters through open nights, school website, year-head system, phone calls, correspondence, and meetings by appointment. This is appropriate.
The school has a formal homework policy in place. A homework journal system is in use. The journal is used to record homework and to maintain communication between home and school. This is good practice.
Samples of student work were viewed. These showed evidence of monitoring by teachers, including annotation and provision of affirming and guiding comments. Provision of guiding comments is good practice as such formative feedback helps students to improve their learning. In some samples of work viewed, it was noted that students should be reminded to correct their work as it is being corrected in class and it was noted that a small number of students need further assistance with the correct spelling of scientific terms. Developing all studentsí correction practices assures that studentsí work will be of a standard sufficient to act as a learning resource and a revision aid. The samples examined showed satisfactory levels of student work, relative to the studentsí year group. Examination of records of studentsí experimental work showed that students should be encouraged to include a description of the planning undertaken in advance of the performance of the work.
Good work has been done in planning for a common assessment in first year. The development of this practice is encouraged as common assessments allow valuable examination and comparison of student attainment across a year group. They are also useful in cases where students change from one class grouping to another.
Science teachers reward studentsí performance of practical work by grading laboratory copies, giving oral feedback while students perform the experimental work, and by allocating a portion of studentsí end-of-year examination results for the write up of experimental work. These practices support and affirm the importance of student performance of practical, investigative work. It is encouraged that these practices are developed and formalised for Science so that the skills gained by students in the performance of practical work are rewarded.
Teachers support studentsí participation in extra-curricular and co-curricular activities, which have included visits to neighbouring third-level colleges, Science week, recycling, BA festival of Science, and the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition. Teachersí commitments and contributions in this area are acknowledged and commended.
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 and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.