An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Chemistry
Causeway Comprehensive School
Causeway, County Kerry
Roll number: 70540E
Date of inspection: 20 September 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Chemistry
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Causeway Comprehensive School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science and Chemistry and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of these subjects 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 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.
Causeway Comprehensive School, which is situated in a small rural village, is a post-primary coeducational school and is under the auspices of Kerry County VEC (Kerry Education Service). Science is in a strong position in the school.
Junior Certificate Science is a core subject, with all students taking the revised syllabus. The school's commitment to offering Science in Transition Year (TY) is commended, not least because it provides the opportunity to further develop the scientific literacy and science-process skills of the students. Students study modules of Health Education, Forensic Science, Cosmetic Science, and Environmental Science, along with a Design and Discovery module which is a hands-on, project-based course that encourages students to identify and design creative solutions to everyday problems in the world of design and engineering. Each module provides experiential learning and promotes student understanding and appreciation for the concepts of science in the world around them. It is also significant that Leaving Certificate subject pre-selection does not occur in Transition Year, allowing students an extra year of experience and maturity before making their choices. Biology, Physics, Chemistry and Agricultural Science are offered as optional subjects for Leaving Certificate. It is noteworthy that the uptake of the Leaving Certificate science subjects is good and in some instances, very 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 by girls.
All science classes in first year and at senior cycle are of mixed ability. Second-year and third-year classes are banded for Science. Generally final decisions regarding chosen levels for Science are not made until completion of the pre examinations. While it is understood that all students are encouraged to study higher-level Science at Junior Certificate, it is recommended that management and staff continue to devise strategies to further increase the student cohort at this level. The good practice of advice and support being provided to students and their parents to assist them in making appropriate subject choices is commended.
The time allocation for the teaching and learning of all science subjects is in line with syllabus guidelines. Timetabling supports the delivery of the curricula, with each class typically receiving an even spread of classes over the week and at least one double lesson to facilitate practical work. 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, while information evenings are held for parents. A comprehensive brochure explaining the process and implications of subject choice is also supplied. Students are initially presented with an open choice of subjects. The option blocks are subsequently devised based on these choices. It was reported that almost all student requests are catered for.
An induction process for new teachers is commendably provided both in school and by Kerry Education Service. Subject colleagues provide support and teachers are brought on a tour of the local catchment area in order that they may become familiar with the residential localities of the student population.
The school is well resourced for the teaching of the sciences, with three well-equipped laboratories and a demonstration room. All students have timetabled weekly access to the laboratories and in addition, collaboration between teachers ensures that laboratories are made available as required. The purchasing of resources and equipment is generally done on an individual basis, although there is some informal collaboration in this regard. The practice of making funds available for replenishment of resources on a needs basis is applauded. A storage and preparation area adjoins the physics and chemistry laboratory. Another connects the other laboratories. Considerable work has been done on the safe storage of chemicals, including the purchase of flame-resistant presses for the storage of flammable chemicals. To build on this good practice it is recommended that all chemicals be colour coded, thus facilitating their continued ease of safe storage. There is a high level of safety equipment such as isolation switches, extinguishers, safety glasses etc., in the laboratories. The school has a health and safety statement, which is currently under review.
The chemistry laboratory contains a computer and data projector and all laboratories have Internet access. Laptops and overhead projectors are also available in the school, as are television, DVD and VCR units. Data logging equipment further supplements the ICT equipment in the chemistry laboratory. There is also a computer room in the school. Management is to be commended on the provision of such facilities. The science department is encouraged to increase the level of ICT resources over time. Strategies to further incorporate these resources effectively into the teaching and learning of Junior Certificate Science and Leaving Certificate Chemistry could be explored.
All laboratories provide a visually rich environment which is conducive to student learning. Of particular merit is the display of student work, a practice which is encouraged as a means of acknowledging student effort.
Some links have been developed with the learning-support department in the school. It is recommended that the science department continue to enhance these links, taking particular cognisance of the Junior Certificate Schools Programme (JCSP) students and the strategies in place for completion of profile statements, and the role of the science teacher in the implementation of learning-support programmes. Another support offered to students in the school is provided by its involvement in the North Kerry Early School Leavers’ Initiative, a programme which continues during the summer in co-operation with the Health Service Executive and local primary schools. The school is a participant in the School Support Programme (SSP) under the DEIS action plan for educational inclusion.
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 subject department planning, motivation and mixed-ability teaching, and delivering equality of opportunity in schools. Further evidence of the commitment of two science teachers to professional development is demonstrated by the willingness of one teacher to host in-career training for teachers in Chemistry on more than one occasion, and by another who has been involved in the teachers’ design teams under the auspices of the National Biology Support Service (NBSS). This teacher is currently undertaking an action research project in conjunction with a class group. This very active participation in professional development is highly commended.
A high level of provision is made for co-curricular and extra-curricular science activities, including fieldtrips, participation in Science and Chemistry quizzes and entries to the Olympiads and Young Scientist and Technology competition. The time given by the science teachers and their dedication in facilitating students’ participation in such events is deserving of praise.
Commendably, Causeway Comprehensive School is at an advanced stage of school development planning (SDP), having a myriad of policies in place and significant work has been done for the advancement of subject departments. Communication is enhanced between members of the science department through a number of formal recorded meetings and ongoing informal collaboration.
The science teachers are professional and adopt a collegial approach to their work. This is evidenced by the common programme of work which has been devised for the revised Junior Certificate Science syllabus and their willingness to share resources. Teachers are encouraged to build on this first-rate practice and share effective teaching strategies for Science. Excellent work has been done on the compilation of four comprehensive science department folders containing resources such as safety strategies, NCCA subject guidelines and plans of the TY science modules.
In some instances extensive folders of resources, both in electronic and paper format, indicate a high-quality level of individual planning. In almost all cases a very good level of preparation and advance planning of the lessons was observed during the course of the inspection. Teaching and learning were enhanced as equipment and resources were ready in advance and handouts had been prepared and ready for distribution. The work of the teachers in this regard is highly commended. The fine level of co-operation between teachers was admirably demonstrated by the co-ordinated preparation of equipment and materials for lessons observed.
In all classes visited, a disciplined atmosphere was maintained. Teacher rapport was positive and contributed to a constructive learning environment in the lessons observed. In the main students were attentive, interested and participated well in the learning process. Topics included forces, Hess’s law and friction. Teaching methodologies included questioning, explanation, board work, teacher demonstration, student practical work and student worksheets. The practice of student involvement in demonstrating non-mandatory practical activities is commended.
Whole-class teaching was used effectively at the start of lessons in order to set the scene. In all cases teachers gave clear guidance on what the aims of the lesson were and on the topics to be covered, with the initial minutes of most lessons also being given over to oral correction of homework or a review of what had been covered and learnt in a previous lesson. This is commended. Question-and-answer sessions during this time ensured that a strong connection was made with previous knowledge before proceeding to new material.
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. The practice of directing questions to individual students, which generally speaking is employed by the teachers, is noted as good practice, and so it is recommended that this be continued and further developed where appropriate. Short recap sessions during the lessons provided effective reinforcement of content in some instances. By and large, students’ responses indicated good understanding and knowledge. It is most encouraging to see the discrete role played by textbooks in general.
In two lessons, students participated keenly in a hands-on, structured and well-organised practical activity. Students worked in pairs or groups of three, 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. As students performed the practical activities the teachers constantly circled the classroom giving appropriate attention and support to individual needs. It is significant that in one instance a plenary session was employed to consolidate student learning. This is best practice as it also provides an opportunity to clarify any lack of understanding and correct any misconceptions students may have.
There was some evidence of the employment of the investigative approach to Science. Where it was observed, students actively followed a logical pattern of thought and questioning leading to understanding. It is recommended that all teachers build on this excellent practice. Student practical activities are an essential element of the revised Junior Certificate Science syllabus. Therefore it is imperative that all students perform the mandatory investigations, which form one element of the coursework assessment. It is recommended that less class time be devoted to the writing up of practical work that could be completed as homework, and that the time is used alternatively to cover related theory.
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. In one instance, the ‘back door’ system in the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and Kerry’s All-Ireland win was effectively utilised to explain Hess’s law. In a lesson devoted to friction, students were questioned on the effect of wet and dry weather on passing a football. This reinforcement of student understanding of the relevance and application of science is excellent practice.
Formative assessment of the students is carried out on an ongoing basis by questioning in class, and by means of homework in almost all instances. There was evidence of some monitoring of homework. The assigning of regular homework enhances student learning and allows for student progress to be assessed. Teachers are encouraged to build on this good practice to support the learning and teaching of Science.
Students sit formal Christmas and summer tests, and state examination classes also have ‘mock’ examinations. Other tests are administered at the discretion of the teacher during class time. It is understood that common assessment is employed for formal examinations in junior cycle to complement the common programme of work. This is very good practice.
Students have recorded practical activities in their notebooks. There was some evidence of monitoring of these books. Teachers are encouraged to build on this element of good practice as it provides motivation for engagement by all students with the written practical element of the course. The practice of giving students credit for their written practical work is commended.
A good level of contact is maintained between the school and parents. In addition to formal examination reports, ongoing student progress is also given to parents through the student journal, annual parent-teacher meetings and information evenings. Letters and circulars are sent to parents intermittently. Parents may also meet with management and teaching staff by appointment. This is commended.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Science is afforded a high priority, as evidenced by the range of science subjects offered at senior cycle and the fact that Science is a core subject to Junior Certificate.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Greater use of the investigative approach to practical work must be adopted at junior cycle.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Science 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.