An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science
Kilkieran Road, Cabra, Dublin 7
Roll number: 70150O
Date of inspection: 13 December 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Éanna, Cabra, Dublin 7. 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 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 teacher. 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 cycle Science at Coláiste Éanna was carried out over the course of one day. It commenced with a pre-evaluation meeting with the principal. Following this meeting, there was a meeting with the science teacher. At this meeting, the objectives and procedures of the evaluation were explained. This was followed by a visit to a third-year science class.
The location of Coláiste Éanna 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 some years ago and has also been included in the recently announced DEIS programme. Coláiste Éanna is also involved in the School Completion Programme (SCP) and has a Home-School-Community Liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator on the teaching staff. As a result, the school is in receipt of funding and other supports to assist students in attending and benefiting from their time spent in school. A majority of the current student population have special educational needs. These facts bring their own challenges to the school and play a major part in subject provision and in subject choice for students at all levels.
Overall student numbers have been in decline in recent years. Science has been in decline over the past three years and there are no science classes in first year or second year currently. As a result of redrafting the curriculum and in order to give students a taste of Science, it has been introduced to third year this year, under the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) and there are a small number of students studying Science in third year at present. It is also intended to offer Science to incoming first-year students from September 2007. These moves are intended, over time, to help address the problem of a deficit in science-related subjects at senior level also.
The current third-year class did not study Science in first or second year. They are allocated three one-hour classes per week. While they are not specifically studying the Junior Certificate course, it is hoped that they will sit the Science examination next June. The curriculum that has been planned for them will give them a taste of the range of topics that Science includes and will also give them the basics of Science that will help in whatever subject choices they make for senior cycle.
There are two qualified teachers of Science in the school and one of these is currently actively teaching Science. Where possible, opportunities have been availed of for continuing professional development during the current national in-service training programme in Junior Certificate Science.
There is one laboratory in the school. It is old and, although it is in reasonable condition and in constant use, there is scope to modernise it. Because of uncertainty regarding the future direction of the school, the refurbishment of the laboratory has been held up. There is a small storage and preparation area located adjacent to the laboratory. It is also in need of upgrading. All science classes are held in a laboratory. Resources available include an overhead projector, a television and DVD player, a desktop computer and a number of charts and posters. It is suggested that the inclusion of some student-developed posters and charts would serve to enhance the learning environment and to motivate students.
A range of health and safety equipment was observed, including a first aid kit, a fire extinguisher, a fire blanket and a fume cupboard. The school has a health and safety statement that was drawn up under the auspices of the City of Dublin VEC (CDVEC) following an audit, six years ago. It was last reviewed in February 2006 and is reviewed annually.
There is a school plan in place which is currently in the process of being revised. This is being done in conjunction with CDVEC. Support from the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) has also been availed of over the past three years. The future direction of Coláiste Eanna is under consideration as, with a second-level student population of 112 at present, the viability of the school as a post-primary school is uncertain. Adult and further education is now the larger component of the work of the school and the question as to whether the school should be a special unit within CDVEC for special education or adult education or to provide some other specific educational service to a particular target group is being researched and examined.
As there is only one active teacher of science subjects in the school there has not been a need to set up a formal science department. The science teacher carries out all curriculum planning, stock control, equipment ordering and laboratory management duties. The science teacher deserves great credit for the amount of work done in this area. Funding for the sciences is provided as requested and management has been very supportive to date.
A scheme of work for the third-year science class was presented to the inspector. Topics from the Junior Certificate course in Biology, Chemistry and Physics were included in the scheme. These topics were chosen on the basis of their relevance to the subjects the students would choose from in senior cycle and so as to give the students a basic grounding in areas that would be of use to them in their daily lives. Learning targets, similar to those used in the JCSP model, are being used and the work observed in the classroom is in line with monthly planning documents presented to the inspector.
Should a decision is made to develop and enhance the provision of Science over the coming years, a plan for the development of the sciences and the improvement of the laboratory facilities will have to be drawn up. Such a plan will also have to take student numbers and curriculum issues such as content and methodologies into consideration. It is recommended that assistance from the Junior Certificate Science Support Service (www.jcsss.ie) and of the broader Second Level Support Service (www.slss..ie) be sought in this event.
In the lesson observed there was evidence of short term planning. The teacher was familiar with the subject matter of the lesson. Materials and samples of plants necessary for class, along with the chemicals and apparatus required for student centred investigative work, had been prepared in advance. This preparation contributed to the quality of learning and is praiseworthy.
In the lesson visited, good discipline was apparent. The teacher was enthusiastic, warm, patient and considerate of students and a good learning environment was evident. The teacher demonstrated a professional and business-like approach to work. The level of two-way communication in classrooms was very good and students were quick to ask questions and seek explanations. Students were attentive, interested and anxious to participate in the learning process. The topics covered in the classes observed included root, stem and flower structure and pollination.
A variety of teaching methodologies was observed, including student practical work, the use of the overhead projector, questioning, explanations and handouts. These methodologies were chosen in the best interests of the students and with the topic to be taught in mind. The lesson was well planned, well structured, and had a clear focus. Teacher inputs were short, specific and clear. Summaries were used from time to time to reinforce learning. The pacing of the lesson was excellent, students were kept busy and actively engaged at all times, and changes in methodologies were built into the lesson as appropriate. Students were challenged by lesson content and 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 lesson observed. This is excellent practice.
Rapport with students was excellent. Teacher movement among the students, assisting, examining and encouraging, was evident. The teacher was very affirming of student effort and was always encouraging and positive. A feature of the lesson was the manner in which the teacher communicated effectively with students using language appropriate to their level of understanding and ability. New terminology and important keywords were effectively explained and reinforced. This is best practice and the teacher is to be commended for a patient and considered approach. It is recommended that the seating arrangement within the classroom be reviewed in order to bring the students closer together and to make it easier to address the class group as a single unit.
During the observed student practical work the students worked singly. It was obvious from their behaviour that the students were accustomed to carrying out practical work and the science teacher is to be praised for seeing that the students get the opportunity to do this practical work themselves. Students displayed a good level of skill during the course of this work and were well prepared for carrying out their practical work by the excellent use of plenary sessions to review the theory and practice of the activity, before bench work started. As already stated, reviews were frequent and the main points of the lesson were emphasised and reiterated.
Good practice concerning the minimal use of textbooks was apparent during the lessons observed. Homework given was appropriate to the lesson content and was designed to assist the student in learning and retaining the topic.
Students demonstrated a positive attitude towards Science as evidenced by the level of engagement and interest observed during the course of the lesson visited. Students displayed an appropriate level of knowledge, understanding and skills during interaction with the inspector. Formative assessment of students is carried out on an ongoing basis by questioning in class, through correction of homework and through teacher movement and observation of students during class. Excellent use of questioning both as a teaching and an assessment technique was observed in the classroom. There was good evidence that the science teacher has a very accurate knowledge with regard to the ability of individual students in the class and had appropriate expectations.
It is recommended that student copies and notebooks are checked and annotated regularly to encourage students and to point the way towards improvement.
All classes are assessed by means of Christmas tests. First, second and fifth year students also have summer tests. Questions on practical work are included in these examinations. In addition, Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate classes sit mock examinations during the second term. These examinations are corrected externally. Additional testing is at the discretion of individual teachers. Records of assessment are held in teachers’ own diaries and on computer in the school office.
Results of assessments and progress reports are communicated to parents by means of Christmas and summer reports, and following mock examinations. The students’ journal is also used for day-to-day communication with parents and tutors, who maintain regular contact with parents, check it weekly. Parent-teacher meetings are held once per year for each class and parents’ evenings are held as required.
There was evidence of record keeping by the science teacher, covering such areas as student attendance, assessments, behaviour and work completed. This is good practice. The recorded information 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 choice of subjects at senior level and on what level of examination paper to choose in certificate examinations.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is suggested that the inclusion of some student-developed posters and charts on the laboratory walls would serve to enhance the learning environment and to motivate students.
· It is recommended that assistance from the Junior Certificate Science Support Service (www.jcsss.ie) and the broader Second Level Support Service (www.slss..ie) be sought in order to enhance planning for the sciences.
· It is recommended that the seating arrangement within the classroom be reviewed in order to bring the students closer together and to make it easier to address the class group as a single unit.
· It is recommended that student copies and notebooks are checked and annotated regularly to encourage students and to point the way towards improvement.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teacher 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.