An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science
Deansrath Community College
New Nangor Road, Clondalkin, Dublin 22
Roll number: 70040H
Date of inspection: 16 and 18 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Deansrath Community College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Junior Certificate Science and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over two days 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 the subject teachers. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
The evaluation of Junior Certificate Science at Deansrath Community College, New Nangor Road, Clondalkin, Dublin 22 was carried out over the course of two days. It commenced with a pre-evaluation meeting with the principal, followed by a meeting with the Science teachers. At this meeting, the objectives and procedures of the evaluation were explained. Following this, a double first-year, a double second-year and a double third-year Science class were observed.
The location of Deansrath Community College has been recognised as an area of social and economic disadvantage by successive governments. The school was given disadvantaged status by the Department of Education and Science in 1990 and as a result is in receipt of funding and other supports to assist students in attending and benefiting from their time spent in school. A significant minority of the current student population have special educational needs or come from minority backgrounds. These facts bring their own challenges to the school and play a major part in the subject choices of students at all levels.
Junior Certificate Science is an optional subject for students on entering the school. It is offered to all students except those who are following the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP). In-coming first-year students choose three subjects from a broad range offered and option bands are arranged according to demand in order to satisfy as many students as possible. Science classes are allocated four class periods each week. This is in the form of two double periods and it is within syllabus guidelines. There is a maximum class size of 24 students for Junior Certificate Science and classes are commonly smaller than this.
The school currently offers Biology and Chemistry as an optional subject to Leaving Certificate level. Following consultation with the Guidance Counsellor, subject teachers and their parents, students are surveyed regarding their subject preferences, during their third year. As with incoming first-year students, the results of the survey are used to create a “best-fit” model of options from which students make their final choice of subjects. There is a maximum class size of 24 students for senior Biology classes, classes are of mixed ability and are timetabled for two double periods and one single period per week, which is in line with syllabus requirements.
There are two teachers of Science in the school and one of these is currently teaching Biology also. Opportunities have been availed of for continuing professional development during the current national in-service training programme in Junior Certificate Science. Management is commended on the commitment given to facilitate attendance at in-service training. The Science teachers encourage active participation by students in a range of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities including the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition and Science open days in Tallaght Institute of Technology. They are also planning to visit Dublin Zoo, next year, in order to participate in their Ecology programme. The work of the Science teachers in providing these opportunities for their students is praiseworthy.
There are two laboratories in the school. They are in good condition, well equipped and are adequate for their purpose. One of the laboratories is used mainly as the “practical” laboratory, the other mainly as the “theory” laboratory. There are separate storage and preparation areas located adjacent to each laboratory. All Science classes are held in a laboratory and the laboratories are used almost entirely for Science teaching. Resources available include an overhead projector in each laboratory, a desktop computer in one, and a range of charts and posters, many of which were produced by students. It is suggested that these charts and posters be changed occasionally, in line with the seasons for example, or with the topics being taught at a particular time.
A range of health and safety equipment was observed, including first aid kits, fire extinguishers, fume cupboards, and electricity isolation switches. The school has a health and safety statement that was drawn up in 2002. The Science teachers were involved in its preparation and were also involved in its review in 2005. A high priority was given to the active management of safety issues during student practical work, as evidenced by the wearing of safety glasses by both teacher and students in one class observed. This is praiseworthy.
There is a school plan in place in Deansrath Community College, including the school’s mission statement, and a range of school policies as required by legislation. There is an informal Science department in place with a recognised co-ordinator. The duties of the co-ordinator include chairing subject department meetings, which are held on Tuesday mornings, every six weeks or so during the school year, maintaining records and advising management with regard to subject needs. Both Science teachers share the management of issues such as laboratory maintenance, stick control and ordering of equipment. Funding for equipment and consumables is provided on request by management, subject to resources, and satisfaction was expressed by the Science teachers as to the level of support provided. Informal contact between the Science teachers is frequent and laboratory sharing and other issues of immediate concern are dealt with. The level of co-operation between the Science teachers is excellent.
The Science teachers separately presented long-term schemes of work. These schemes listed the topics to be covered with each class, on a weekly basis, for the full school year. It is recommended that these long-term plans should include not only a detailed list of coursework topics, but also a list of practical activities associated with each topic, the intended allocation of time for the coverage of each topic and a list of resources to be used in teaching each topic. Teaching and learning methodologies should also be included in order to ensure that teachers do not unwittingly restrict themselves to a preferred dominant style of teaching and to ensure that material is taught in a manner appropriate to the material itself and to the students under instruction. Assessment objectives should be defined for the various tests and examinations during the school year so that appropriate types of examinations can be administered. Further helpful advice is available on the School Development Planning Initiative website, www.sdpi.ie. A list of possible resources for Junior Certificate Science can be found on the Junior Certificate Science Support Service web site www.juniorscience.ie. It is also recommended that the Science teachers co-ordinate their planning documents to a much greater extent so that there is continuity from year to year and a detailed overall plan for Junior Certificate Science can then be drawn up. A long-term strategy to enhance the number of students taking Junior Certificate Science should also be considered. This will have a knock-on effect on the numbers choosing to study Leaving Certificate Biology and may also open the way to introducing a second Science subject at senior level.
In the classes observed there was evidence of short term planning. Teachers were familiar with the subject matter of their lessons and there was a theme running through each lesson. Materials necessary for class, along with the apparatus required for student centred investigative work, had been prepared in advance. This preparation contributed to the quality of learning and is praiseworthy.
There was a disciplined atmosphere in all classes visited. Rapport with students was good and this is to be commended. Teachers were enthusiastic, warm, patient and considerate of students. Their approach to their work was professional and business-like and a good learning environment was evident in all lessons observed. Good progress was made in all lessons and the level of two-way communication in classrooms was appropriate to the task at hand. Most students were attentive, interested and anxious to participate in the learning process. The topics covered in the classes observed included conduction of heat, light and revision work from past examination papers.
A variety of teaching methodologies was observed, including student practical work, demonstrations, questioning, use of the board, use of the overhead projector and the use of handouts. Changes in methodologies were built into lesson plans as appropriate. Teachers were very knowledgeable regarding their subject matter and there was excellent use of scientific terminology throughout all the lessons observed. Lessons proceeded at a suitable pace. Students were challenged by lesson content and most responded well. Continuity from previous lessons was good and new information was well linked to previous learning. There was good direction and follow through in the lessons observed. Lessons were well planned and had a clear focus. This is excellent practice.
Some instances of very good practice in the use of methodologies were observed. Very good lesson structure was apparent in some classes: the introduction to the lesson, the unveiling of new material, followed by review, closure and assignment of homework, were all clearly evident. Some very good use of questioning was observed with all students being encouraged to participate through questions being directed towards individuals, with an appropriate mix of simple questions, testing recall, and more difficult higher-order questions stimulating students to think at a deeper level. It is very important that all possible opportunities, such as this, to make use of active learning methodologies are taken in order to encourage active student involvement in lessons.
Teacher movement among the students, assisting, examining and encouraging, was evident during practical work. On occasion, more teacher movement down among the students during the less activity-based lessons would assist and encourage students, sustaining interest and application to work and give the teacher more of an indication of the level of student achievement. Teachers were affirming of student effort and were encouraging and positive in correcting students with appropriate interventions. This is good practice. The use of textbooks was minimal during theory sessions. Textbooks were used for background reading by students and to assist in homework. Homework given was appropriate to lesson content and was designed to assist students in learning and retaining the topic. This is good practice.
During the observed student practical work the students worked in groups of two. It was obvious from their behaviour that the students were accustomed to carrying out practical work and the Science teachers are to be praised for their commitment to seeing that their students get the opportunity to do this practical work themselves. Students were well prepared for carrying out their practical work by the excellent use of plenary sessions to review the theory and practice of each activity, before bench work started. Similar plenary sessions were held when the practical activities were completed, in order to review the work done and to emphasise what had been learned. This is excellent practice.
In order for students to make better progress and gain a better understanding of their course of study, it is suggested that students are made aware of the objectives of the lesson at the outset of each class period. Students may work better if they are more informed as to where a lesson is leading and where it fits into the larger picture. This can be motivating and informative as well as giving a sense of purpose and direction to classroom work. These lesson objectives should be clear, concise and achievable. They can encourage a degree of self-assessment by students within the class and help individuals to monitor their own progress.
Students demonstrated a positive attitude towards Science as evidenced by the level of engagement and interest observed during the lessons visited. Students displayed a good level of knowledge, understanding and skills during interaction with the inspector. Formative assessment of students is carried out on an ongoing basis by questioning students in class, through correction of homework and through teacher movement and observation of students during class.
Students kept laboratory notebooks up to date as evidence of practical work being carried out. This is a very important aspect of new and revised syllabuses in the Science area. While the quality of most of the notebooks was excellent, a few were of a lesser quality. Best practice was seen where laboratory notebooks were checked and annotated with positive comments and dated on a regular basis by the teacher. This is an important means of encouraging students and of pointing the way towards improvement.
Formal assessments are held for certificate examination classes before Halloween each year. All classes are assessed at Christmas. Mock examinations are held for third-year and sixth-year classes in the spring and are corrected by teachers. Finally, all non-examination classes are assessed in May. Questions on practical work are integrated into the examination papers for all in-house examinations. In addition, credit of up to 20% is given to first-year and second-year students in their summer examinations for their laboratory notebooks.
Parent-teacher meetings are held in November for certificate examination classes where the results of the Halloween assessment and a written comment are presented to parents. The results of the Christmas assessments and a written report on student progress are given to parents at parent-tutor meetings in January for all classes. Mock examinations, in the spring, are followed by parent-tutor meetings for third-year and sixth-year students where a report is again presented to parents. Results and progress reports are sent home to parents of non-examination classes following the summer examinations.
There was evidence of good record keeping by the Science teachers, covering such areas as student attendance, topics taught, homework, student behaviour and assessment results. This is good practice. The information recorded can be used to build up student profiles and can form the basis of very useful evidence in communicating student progress to parents and in advising both students and parents on their choice of subjects at senior level and on what level of examination paper to choose in certificate examinations.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
A professional approach is taken to the teaching of Science in Deansrath Community College.
Science is well supported within the school, with good provision of resources and of double classes to facilitate practical work.
To date, opportunities for professional development have been availed of and encouraged by management.
A positive atmosphere was observed in the classes visited. Most students were motivated and eager to engage in learning processes.
Lessons observed were well planned to ensure continuity and progression, with careful advance preparation of the necessary resource material. A wide range of teaching methodologies was used, to good effect. This stimulated interest and helped to motivate students.
Student practical work was observed with further evidence in the students’ laboratory notebooks, which is to be commended. Heath and safety is given a high priority by the Science teachers and is actively managed in the Science laboratories.
Areas for development include long-term planning and classroom procedure.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
It is recommended that the Science department engages in more detailed long-term planning, to include a detailed list of coursework topics, a list of associated practical activities, the intended allocation of time for the coverage of each topic and a list of appropriate resources. Teaching and learning methodologies should also be considered and assessment objectives should be defined so that appropriate examinations can be administered.
It is recommended that the Science teachers co-ordinate their planning documents to a much greater extent so that there is continuity from year to year and a detailed overall plan for Junior Certificate Science can then be drawn up.
A long-term strategy to enhance the number of students taking Junior Certificate Science should also be considered. This will have a knock-on effect on the numbers choosing to study Leaving Certificate Biology and may also open the way to introducing a second Science subject at senior level.
It is very important that use be made of methodologies which encourage active student involvement in their own learning.
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.