An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Biology
Grange Community College,
Donaghmede, Dublin 13
Roll number: 70020B
Date of inspection: 14 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Biology
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Grange Community College, Donaghmede, Dublin 13. 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 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 on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Renovations are currently ongoing to the roof of the Science laboratories in Grange Community College as part of the summer works scheme. There are two laboratories in the school which are tidy and well maintained and include a good supply of materials and equipment. There is a shared lockable storage and preparation area which is neat and well organised. It is recommended that management add a flameproof cabinet for flammable chemicals to this storage area. Each laboratory is equipped with a range of health and safety features such as fire extinguisher, first aid kit, fire blanket, safety goggles etc. Health and safety precautions are displayed prominently in both laboratories and it is suggested that they be added to the front of student notebooks which will reinforce this good practice. It is praiseworthy that student achievement is celebrated on the walls of the corridor, while the laboratories themselves have displays of student work in the form of projects and posters.
Science is a core subject to Junior Certificate level in Grange Community College and Science classes are of mixed ability. The school also offers Leaving Certificate Biology. The College also presents an extensive post-Leaving Certificate programme. The time allocated to the Science subjects is appropriate and is in line with syllabus requirements. Commendably all Science classes are held in a laboratory and there is a sufficient allocation of double class periods in the week which facilitates investigative practical work.
The Science teachers have benefited from opportunities for continuing professional development during national in-service training in the revised biology and Science syllabuses. Management is to be commended for their commitment to facilitating this in-service and for their on-going consideration in both identifying and supporting staff training needs. Resources and further support is available for the Science team on the following websites: www.nbsstralee.ie and www.juniorscience.ie
There is a PC in the laboratory with internet access. The Science team are advised to explore this facility for the development of new teaching aids and enhancement of teaching and learning in Science and Biology in the school. The provision by management of a data projector would further progress the incorporation of ICT into lessons. In addition, the school has an ICT suite to which limited access is available for the Science team.
Long term plans were available for both Junior Certificate Science and Leaving Certificate Biology. These were comprehensive and collaborative where appropriate. They contained a list of topics to be covered by each year group, a time frame for these topics, learning outcomes, reference to grouping of students, class organisation, planning for students with special needs, cross-curricular planning, experimental work, methodologies and resources. It is recommended that a list of topics planned for each year group be distributed to students at the start of the school year to give students a good overview of the course and to encourage them to plan for their own revision.
In the classes observed there was evidence of good short-term planning. Teachers were familiar with the subject matter of their lessons and there was a theme running through each lesson. Appropriate materials and resources necessary for each lesson had been prepared in advance and planning notes had been outlined in the teachers’ diaries. This level of preparation contributed to the quality of teaching and learning and is to be commended.
Co-ordination and communication among the science team is effective and takes the form of formal departmental meetings for the purpose of outlining programmes, stock control and making other subject-specific arrangements such as text books and planning for programmes of study. Informal meetings are also held on a regular basis to review curriculum progress and student achievement throughout the year, which is good practice.
Lessons evaluated included topics of photosynthesis and testing a leaf for starch as well as of osmosis. Student practical notebooks, homework and classwork exercise books were also examined.
All lessons observed were clear and well structured. Good use was made of a range of teachimg methodologies such as group and paired work, board-work, questioning and whole class discussions. One lesson observed made good use of Overhead Projector transparencies and matching worksheets to introduce the topic. This contributed to the effectiveness of an introductory plenary session to introduce the practical activity to be carried out in the class. As a result students discussed the procedure to be implemented and then could proceed independently to carry out the investigation. Teacher movement around the classroom, affirming, evaluating and explaining, served to keep students on task and encourage students to engage with their own learning. This is good practice.
In all classes visited, Science was made relevant to students’ lives and linked to their everyday experiences, which is praiseworthy. In one lesson Visking tubing was used to simulate the cell membrane to show the movement of water particles in the process of osmosis. Students were encouraged to formulate a hypothesis based on their scientific knowledge of the subject and then go on to test their original prediction. The process of fair testing was discussed during the lesson and the quality of students’ answers indicated a good level of understanding of the process taking place. During the conclusion of the lesson, group results were collated and anomalous results were discussed. Students were encouraged to write up the experiment in their own words, which is laudable practice. When questioned, students answered confidently and displayed good knowledge of topics covered in Science during the year.
Classes observed were of mixed ability and differentiated teaching was evidenced in pre-prepared worksheets of differing levels of complexity and the level of teacher intervention in tasks. Good attention was paid to the ‘language of science’ and the spelling and pronunciation of new words. It is commendable practice that a bank of differentiated worksheets is available in the laboratory which has been developed in conjunction with the education support teacher in the school. Discipline was good and an atmosphere of mutual respect prevailed in each classroom visited. Correct answers were affirmed while incorrect ones were clarified. Lessons proceeded at a suitable pace, students were kept busy and actively engaged at all times, and teachers provided a lot of patient and positive support.
Where practical work was observed, pupils worked enthusiastically and confidently, with an appropriate level of teacher intervention and due regard for health and safety issues. In one lesson observed students worked competently in groups of two or three to test a leaf for starch. It is laudable that students were encouraged to write up their results and conclusions in their own words from a bank of relevant vocabulary on the white board generated through brainstorming.
A range of assessment techniques is in evidence in Grange Community College. Whole school assessments take place at Christmas and summer as well as mock examinations for Certificate students. The results of these examinations are conveyed to parents in school reports and include a progress report. Further communication with parents takes the form of parent-teacher meetings and messages in the students’ journal. Class tests are also administered when sections of the syllabus have been completed and the good practice of allocating marks in assessments for the write up of practical activities or project work is a commendable way of encouraging and motivating pupils to maintain high standards in their practical work.
Questions of a higher order that were more challenging and encouraged students to think at a deeper level were used as a good form of assessment during the lessons observed and showed teachers’ high expectations of their students. Formative assessment was also evidenced in the teachers’ observing and monitoring of student activity during the lesson where positive feedback and affirmation was provided.
An up-to-date record of mandatory Junior Certificate practical write-ups, an important aspect of the revised Junior Certificate Science syllabus, was evidenced in the student laboratory notebooks. Senior Biology notebooks were, for the most part, well maintained and contained an appropriate selection of practical activities. Most classwork and homework notebooks observed were of a good standard and the majority showed evidence of checking and annotation which is a good way of encouraging pupils and giving direction. Written and learning homework is assigned where appropriate and pupils are encouraged to note this in their diaries at the end of class. They were checked regularly and the good practice of using “Assessment for learning” was observed in some notebooks. This laudable practice could be extended to all marking practices. Further information on “Assessment for Learning” is available on the NCCA website: www.ncca.ie
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 Biology and with the principal and science teachers at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.