An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science, and Physics and Chemistry
Killarney Community College
Killarney, County Kerry
Roll number: 70450D
Date of inspection: 19 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science, and
Physics and Chemistry
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Killarney Community College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science and Physics and Chemistry, and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of these subjects in the school. The evaluation was conducted over one day, having previously been deferred due to the absence of one of the two teachers. On arrival at the school, the inspector was informed that once again, only one teacher was present. The inspector expressed dissatisfaction to senior management that, similar to the previous occasion, the inspector had not been informed of the impending absence by the principal in advance. During the inspection, the inspector visited laboratories and observed teaching and learning in the lessons of the one other staff member. But in the other lessons, given that these were taken by a substitute teacher with no prior knowledge of the classes, it was felt that a similar inspection of teaching and learning in that context would be unfair. The inspector interacted with students, examined studentsí work and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and the teacherís written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and one 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.
Killarney Community College, is a coeducational, non-denominational, post-primary school, which is under the auspices of Kerry County VEC (Kerry Education Service). Junior Certificate Science is a core subject, and the school offers Biology, Physics and Chemistry to Leaving Certificate. It is noteworthy that the uptake of the Leaving Certificate science subjects is generally good. It is suggested that management and staff continue to be proactive in their encouragement of student uptake of all science subjects and in particular, to devise strategies to increase the uptake of Physics and Chemistry by girls. The school should reconsider offering some Science modules as components of the Leaving Certificate Applied programme.
It is commendable that Killarney Community College has been participating in the Espair-Orbit programme since its inception. The programme is being piloted in Killarney Community College, in conjunction with Cappanlea Outdoor Education Centre and Killarney National Park Education Centre and is supported by Kerry Education Service. This cross-curricular initiative, with an emphasis on active learning, facilitates learning through the use of outdoor resources which have been developed to prepare students for the Junior Certificate examination. The first-year and second-year students are currently partaking in this worthwhile educational experience.†
Kerry Education Service commendably provides an induction process for new teachers. All science classes are of mixed ability. Generally, final decisions regarding chosen levels for Science are not made until completion of the pre-examinations. However, this practice may be altered depending on the particular student cohort. While it is understood that all students are encouraged to study higher-level Science at Junior Certificate, it is recommended that management and staff actively devise strategies to further increase the student cohort at this level.
The time allocation for the teaching and learning of all science subjects is in line with syllabus guidelines. Timetabling generally supports the delivery of the curricula, with each class typically receiving an even spread of lessons over the week. Taking cognisance of the increased emphasis on practical work in Junior Certificate Science, it is recommended that each class group have at least one double lesson per week to facilitate this activity. Classes retain the same teacher from second year through to third year of junior cycle, and again in senior cycle. This is good practice, allowing for a consistent pedagogical approach to be developed in science classes from year to year. Students receive appropriate support prior to making subject choices from the Guidance Counsellor and year head. The operation of a Ďbest-fití model for selection of subjects is commended, as this is a student-centred approach.
All students have timetabled weekly access to the laboratories. The school has two well-equipped laboratories, and an adjoining preparation and storage area. There are no gas isolation switches in the laboratories and the chemical store has no ventilation. These matters need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. Management could apply for a grant under the Summer Works Scheme for this work. There is a high level of safety equipment such as fire extinguishers, safety blankets, safety glasses etc., in the laboratories. It is good to note that copies of the published guidelines on safety,† Safety in School Science and Safety in the School Laboratory, published by the Department of Education and Science in 1996 and subsequently amended in 2001, are available to all staff. Storage of chemicals in alphabetical order is not good practice. It is recommended that each chemical be marked with the correct colour code in order to facilitate safe storage on a continuing basis. The school should purchase a flame resistant press, as it is best practice to store flammable chemicals in this way. Information on the storage of chemicals can be obtained on the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) website, http://chemistry.slss.ie/. The school has a health and safety statement, which was drawn up in 2004. There was a health and safety review of the technologies in the school in 2004. While acknowledging that the school is awaiting the production of a general safety statement by Kerry Education Service, which could be adapted to specific schools, it is recommended that the current statement be reviewed and that the science teachers be consulted during this process.
The provision of a budget for replenishment of resources is applauded. The science department contains a computer, data projector and Internet access. Overhead projectors, television, and VCR units are also available to support the teaching and learning of the sciences. Data logging equipment and a digital camera further supplement the ICT equipment in the department. Management is to be commended on the provision of such facilities. Strategies to further incorporate these resources effectively into the teaching and learning of Junior Certificate Science and Leaving Certificate Chemistry could be explored.
One small class group, catering for students with special education needs (SEN), is provided for the study of Science, in both second and third year of junior cycle. There is a dedicated small class group in first year for all students with special educational needs. These students are integrated with the rest of the year group for some subjects, and have separate classes for others. All students with special educational needs have a reduced curriculum. All first-year and second-year students are currently doing the Junior Certificate Schools Programme (JCSP). It is recommended that the science department develop further links with the learning-support department in the school, taking particular cognisance of the strategies in place for completion of JCSP profile statements, and the role of the science teacher in the implementation of learning-support programmes. The school is a participant in the School Support Programme (SSP) under the DEIS action plan for educational inclusion. Strategies to enhance the learning experiences of those students who have English as a second language also need to be explored.
Management are commended on the commitment given to facilitate continuing professional development. All teachers have had the opportunity to attend in-career development in the sciences. Over the years whole-staff development days have focused on topics such as creating a positive classroom environment and teaching the reluctant learner. It is noted that management supports and encourages membership of the Irish Science Teachersí Association.
Good links have been developed with Killarney National Park in order to support the teaching of ecology. Studentsí experiences of practical work are supplemented by participation in activities organised by the Institute of Technology, Tralee. The involvement of one teacher in the compilation of a CD for the teaching of Physics, in conjunction with SLSS, is commended.
Killarney Community College has a school planning development officer in place. As part of the school development planning process, whole school policies, including an admissions policy which also incorporates the code of behaviour, a student mentoring policy and an anti-bullying policy have been developed. Management should facilitate formal subject department meetings. It is recommended that formal subject planning be initiated, with a view to devising a common written programme for Junior Certificate Science. This programme could, for example, include provision for content to be covered, specific timeframes, links between practical work and theory, resource requirements, optional assessment methods and examination preparation. This task could be carried out on a phased basis taking, for example, one junior year group per annum. The Science syllabus and ĎGuidelines for Teachersí should provide the basis for such detailed planning. The absence of a common programme highlighted the difficulties for the substitute teacher, who could not prepare in advance of the lesson for the continuation of the studentsí learning.
There is a system in place for ordering chemicals and equipment. It is understood that there was a stock control audit in May 2006. Notwithstanding this, it is recommended that the level of chemicals being held in the department be examined with a view to removal of all out-of-date and unlabelled chemicals. Best safety practice is demonstrated by retention of small quantities of required chemicals. Storage space may then be freed up for the safe storage of equipment.
In one instance, comprehensive folders of resources have been compiled to support teaching and learning in Science, and in Physics and Chemistry. This illustrates a good level of individual planning. The lessons observed were found to reflect syllabus requirements. Preparation for these lessons was noted as being at a high standard.
Both laboratories provide a visually rich environment which helps to promote studentsí learning. In the lessons observed, a good teacher-student rapport existed, and relations were grounded in a sense of mutual respect. Studentsí participation was welcomed and encouraged, and effective use was made of student affirmation. Classroom management was very good and a pleasant and positive atmosphere was predominant. The teacher deserves much credit for generating this warm atmosphere, wholly conducive to good learning. In the main, students engaged readily with the classroom activities and participated well in the learning process.
Lessons observed were well structured, student centred and directed at a pace appropriate to the students. Whole-class teaching was used effectively at the start of the lessons in order to set the scene. The blackboard, overhead projector and computer were successfully utilised to provide visual stimuli and to outline significant points in the lessons observed.
Questions were frequently asked and designed to test knowledge and to affirm studentsí understanding. Emphasis was placed on integrating previous learning with new content. Questioning was also successfully employed throughout lessons to aid the introduction of and subsequent broadening of a new topic, thus providing for the active engagement of students. This is a good approach and should be adopted as much as possible. By and large, studentsí responses indicated good understanding and knowledge.
It is good to note that effective reinforcement of studentsí learning was achieved by utilising examination questions. The employment of teacher demonstration as a means of reviewing learning is very good practice. Teachers are encouraged to build on this positive modus operandi. There were some very nice examples of linking the lesson content to the everyday life experiences of the students, thus making the subject tangible and relevant. For example, a custody battle was used to elucidate electronegativity.
In the practical lesson, students participated keenly in a hands-on, structured and well-organised practical activity. Students worked in pairs, were confident and capable in setting up and completing the tasks, and their practical skills were well developed. Due regard was given to safety procedures. The use of the overhead projector in providing a visual image of the experimental set up is noted as good practice. As students performed the practical activities, the teacher constantly circled the classroom giving appropriate attention and support to individual needs. This is commended. It is recommended that an investigative approach to practical work be employed in junior cycle, in line with the requirements of the revised Junior Certificate Science syllabus. It is good practice to employ a plenary session on completion of practical activities, in order to consolidate studentsí learning. It would also provide an opportunity to clarify any lack of understanding and correct any misconceptions students may have.
Oral assessments were clearly demonstrated by the questioning techniques of the teacher while the studentsí responses enabled the teacher to gauge their learning and understanding. Students recorded their practical activities. Consideration could be given to employing comment-based correction, in order to further progress studentsí learning. The practice of giving students credit for their written practical work is commended and should be adopted by all in the science department. In these lessons, written homework is regularly set, and the standard of work observed in a number of studentsí copybooks indicated their steady progress. The importance of including a written teacherís comment at the end of the homework exercise is always to be recommended and was employed on occasion. The school operates a homework club as a component of the DEIS programme.
All students, except first-year students, sit formal Christmas and summer tests, and State examination classes also have midterm and pre-examinations. The progress of first-year students is ascertained through continuous assessment. It is recommended that common assessment is devised to complement the common programme of work for Junior Certificate Science, once it has been put in place. This would ensure standardisation of the subject across year groups.
A good level of contact is maintained between the school and parents. In addition to formal examination reports, ongoing information regarding studentsí progress is also given to parents through the student journal, annual parent-teacher meetings and postcards, which form part of the Junior Certificate Schools Programme.
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:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teacher of Science and Physics and Chemistry and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.