An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science
Clonakilty Community College
Clonakilty, County Cork
Roll number: 70950A
Date of inspection: 3 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 15 December 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Clonakilty Community College. 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 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.
Clonakilty Community College is a second level coeducational school, incorporating an Aonad Lánghaeilge and is under the auspices of Cork County VEC. Science is in a very strong position in the school.
Junior Certificate Science is a core subject. While one of the third-year groups is studying the old Science syllabus, all other junior-cycle classes are taking the revised syllabus. The school's commitment to offering Biology, Chemistry and Physics to all students 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 in a learning-led rather than examination-led curriculum. In collaboration with CIT, TY students study a module of electronics. Each student has a double or two single lessons per week for each of the Leaving Certificate sciences. This is excellent provision. It is also good to note 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 all Leaving Certificate science subjects is very good. It is suggested that management and staff continue to be proactive in their encouragement of student uptake of all science subjects. The provision of Horticulture and Agricultural Studies as one of the vocational specialisms in the Leaving Certificate Applied Programme (LCA) and General Science as a component of the hair-dressing Post Leaving Certificate course is commended as this effectively integrates science with the world of work. It also provides further evidence of the school’s commitment to science.
The school’s commitment to science education in the Aonad Lánghaeilge is evidenced by the provision of junior cycle Science through the medium of Irish.
Clonakilty Community College has a very good resource in its science personnel. The science teachers are committed and adopt a collegial approach to their work. This is evidenced by their willingness to share resources and teaching methodologies. During the course of the evaluation, it was stated that teachers are willing to learn new skills and techniques from colleagues. This employment of in-house expertise in enhancing professional development is excellent. Teachers are encouraged to build on this first-rate practice. It is noteworthy that all science classes at both senior and junior cycle are of mixed ability, thus facilitating the setting of higher expectations amongst the students. It is commendable that all students are encouraged to study higher-level Science at Junior Certificate and generally final decisions regarding chosen levels are not made until completion of the pre examinations.
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 generally at least one double lesson to facilitate practical work. While acknowledging the constraints of timetabling, it is recommended that management endeavour to provide all class groups, and in particular Transition Year students, with a double lesson in each of the sciences. This would facilitate the further enhancement of student practical skills, an important component of all science syllabuses. Classes retain the same teacher throughout 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. The teaching of each of the Leaving Certificate science subjects is rotated between designated teachers. Again, this is a positive approach, broadening the professional expertise available in the school. Sections of the Leaving Certificate Chemistry syllabus are taught by the principal, providing further evidence of the school’s enthusiasm for the sciences and the high level of collaboration among all involved in the teaching of these subjects.
The school is fairly well resourced for the teaching of the sciences, with two well-equipped laboratories and a demonstration room. Taking cognisance of the increased emphasis on the investigative approach to Junior Certificate Science, the provision of the sciences in Transition Year and four science subjects at Leaving Certificate level, regular access to a laboratory for all class groups is a matter of concern to the science teachers. Informal agreements between the teachers have commendably been put in place to address this issue. A storage and preparation area adjoins both laboratories. To make maximum use of the preparation area, it is noteworthy that the science department has been furnished with temporary accommodation for the storage of non-perishable items outside the main school building. Currently there is no separate chemical store with appropriate ventilation. However, the principal is proactive in a building project for the school involving an extension, in which a separate chemical store is proposed.
All laboratories provide a visually-rich environment with scientific posters, including those through the medium of Irish, on display which enhance student learning. It is good to note that the science department has a small library of science books, a tool to enhance student scientific literacy.
There is a high level of safety equipment such as fire extinguishers, safety blankets, safety glasses etc., in the laboratories. Very good work has been done on the storage of chemicals according to storage classifications, thus ensuring the segregation of the oxidisers and the flammable chemicals. As it is best practice to store flammable chemicals in a flammable press, one has been recently ordered by the school. The purchasing, repair and maintenance of resources and equipment is systematically organised. It is commendable that management financially supports the science department in this regard. The school has a health and safety statement, which was reviewed in 2006, in consultation with members of the science department. Further evidence of the importance of safety in the laboratories is also indicated by the exposition of the hazard symbols, the availability of copies of the published guidelines on safety – Safety in School Science and Safety in the School Laboratory - and the display of a student safety booklet in one of the laboratories.
The laboratories contain overhead projectors and a television, DVD and VCR unit. Similarly, each laboratory has a computer and Internet access. A laptop, data projector and data logging equipment further supplement the ICT equipment for the teaching of science. There are also two computer rooms in the school. Management is to be commended on the provision of such facilities. These facilities are utilised for presentations, animations etc to support the teaching and learning process. The science teachers are encouraged to build on this very good practice.
The guidance counsellor, subject teachers and senior management provide advice and support to students and their parents to assist them in making appropriate subject choices.
A very good level of contact is maintained between subject teachers and members of the learning support department, thus striving to ensure that the needs of all students are met in the mixed- ability setting. The needs of these students are communicated to all teachers via an information booklet. It is noteworthy that whole staff development in this area was enhanced by the organisation of continuing professional development using in-house expertise. Science teachers stated that this was a very valuable learning experience.
Further evidence of the support of management in the professional development of its teachers and indeed of the commitment of teachers themselves is demonstrated by their attendance at the in-career development in the sciences. It is good to note that financial support for membership of the professional associations is provided. Collaboration and the sharing of resources with colleagues in other schools is brought about by the involvement of teachers in ‘SWAG’, the South West Action Group. This is commended. One of the members of the science team, along with colleagues from other subject departments, is involved in the NCCA Assessment for Learning project. Participation in activities such as this is to be praised.
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. Students have also been provided with the opportunity to attend Salters’ Chemistry camps in the University of Ulster. It is noted that one of the teachers co-ordinated the recent ‘Lab in a Lorry’ initiative in collaboration with UCC and the Institute of Physics. The success of this can be gleaned from the fact that students from nine primary and post-primary schools participated in the programme. The unstinting commitment of teachers to facilitating these educational and stimulating activities is deserving of praise.
Clonakilty Community College is at an advanced stage in school development planning (SDP). Among the policies in place are those on special educational needs, behaviour, anti-bullying and admissions. It is noteworthy that formal curricular planning has been initiated recently as part of the SDP process. Management and staff are commended for this work.
Currently a cooperative approach to the co-ordination of science exists in the school. A good level of cooperation and communication is conducted informally among the teachers concerned along with some formal meetings. In this way collaboration is established and maintained. Well-stocked laboratories provide evidence of successful planning for resources. Building on this good practice, consideration could be given to the appointment of a subject coordinator in the science department on a rotational basis and the minuting of formal department meetings. This would further support the planning and organisation of resources and enhance subject planning.
Impressive examples of individual teacher planning were observed during the course of the inspection. Several teachers had compiled folders of resources, containing weekly or half-termly plans. These folders also contained worksheets, acetates, examination questions, and in one instance CDs of resources to support the learning and teaching process.
Planning and having practice runs for the coursework B element of the Junior Certificate Science examination further illustrate the teamwork and commitment of the science teachers in Clonakilty Community College. Long-term subject planning is underway and common programmes of work in Science have been devised for some year groups in junior cycle. This good practice helps establish a common purpose and direction for the subject, facilitates the sharing of expertise and resources and consequently contributes to a high quality of teaching and learning. In this context and building on the high level of individual planning already in place, it is recommended that these common programmes of work be developed for all the sciences where appropriate. It is suggested that these plans could include the resources available for the learning and teaching of each topic and specific timeframes, as is the case in some individual plans. Optional assessment methods and exam preparation, as well as continual revision work, when and where appropriate could also be incorporated. Subject syllabuses and ‘Guidelines for Teachers’ should provide the basis for such detailed planning.
It is significant that written programmes of work for the Transition Year sciences, which are in some instances comprehensive, are in place. Taking cognisance of the changes in staffing in the science department and the enhancement of resources, it is recommended that these plans be revisited. Consideration should be given to the creation of a short annual teaching plan for each science subject detailing the content, teaching methodologies and assessment methods to be used.
Preparation for classes was noted as being at a very high standard, including the preparation of crosswords, handouts, as well as chemicals and equipment. Some teachers had done excellent preparatory work in terms of the incorporation of PowerPoint presentations and animations in their lessons. Lessons observed, as well as planned programmes of work, were found to reflect syllabus requirements. The teachers’ willingness to share resources that individually they have prepared and or found effective in the teaching of certain topics is very good practice, and supports collaboration and collegiality in the planning and delivery of the curriculum. The compilation of a ‘visual learning’ CD ROM by one member of the science department for use by all colleagues is a superb example of departmental cooperation. Those involved are commended on their level of collegiality, including formal and informal collaboration.
There was a very good quality of teaching and learning in evidence in all the Junior Science lessons visited. A variety of lesson types, both practical and theory, were observed. Lessons were well structured, student centred and sequenced with a logical progression from one section of the work to the next.
At the outset of lessons seen, it was particularly noticeable how easily the students settled down to work. Lessons began smoothly, a credit to both teachers and students. In fact, all through the inspection, good and, in some instances, excellent student-teacher rapport enhanced the learning and teaching process. In all cases too, teachers gave very clear guidance on what the aims of the lesson were, on the topics to be covered, etc. with the initial minutes of most lessons devoted to a review of what had been covered and learnt in a previous lesson. Where revision of a particular topic was the purpose of the lesson, the pertinent points were initially highlighted to focus students’ attention on the learning objectives. This is commended. Good continuity with previous lessons, building on students’ prior knowledge and experience, further developed the topic at hand.
Diverse teaching styles were employed, to which students responded well. A range of teaching methodologies was used, including teacher elucidation, student written work, teacher and student demonstration, student practical, ICT and questioning. Teacher instruction was clear, competent and accurate. The blackboard, overhead projector and PowerPoint presentations were effectively used to reinforce salient points and provide visual stimuli.
Excellent employment of ICT to review and consolidate student learning was observed. It was also effectively used to develop the topic at hand and aid student understanding of difficult concepts. As the topic was being developed students were actively involved in PowerPoint presentations both by means of questioning and as in one instance, a student was employed to use the computer. The work of the teachers in preparing and compiling these resources is to be highly commended. All teachers are encouraged to build on this exemplary practice to support the teaching and learning process.
In theory lessons there were some very good examples of the use of active learning methodologies that were appropriate to students’ needs and abilities and which resulted in a good balance between teacher input and student activity. In some instances student and teacher demonstrations were used to stimulate and engage students. In another case students were involved in short practical activities to reinforce learning. Where handouts were distributed, they provided prompts for the practical activities or questionnaire-type stimuli based on the lesson content. There were also some very nice examples of linking the lesson content to the everyday life experiences of the students, thus stimulating student interest and making the subject tangible and relevant.
Helpful revision for the forthcoming Junior Certificate examination was ensured by indicating the significant points of the topic on the blackboard, along with simplified diagrams and student answering of examination questions. Other revision techniques that can be employed include teacher demonstrations and table quizzes.
The use of the scientific language through the medium of Irish is at a high level and students are obviously used to hearing and using Irish. Continual questioning of students in Irish ensured constant re-enforcement of vocabulary and student use of the target language. Student worksheets and written work also served to reinforce students’ scientific understanding and knowledge of Irish. This is excellent practice.
Practical work was highly organised, and students were supported in their work as their teacher circled the room. Initially the teacher focused on key aspects of the practical activity, selecting and emphasising particular elements and demonstrating the use of the equipment prior to the students performing the investigations. Students worked in groups of three or four and were confident and capable in setting up and completing the tasks. Due regard was given to safety procedures. Some evidence of the investigative approach to practical work was observed. It is recommended that increased emphasis on this approach be adopted at junior cycle. This would further increase student motivation and enthusiasm. It would also provide opportunities for students to reflect on, and evaluate, their own work and progress. The employment of a plenary session on completion of the practical activity to reinforce student learning is excellent practice. It is suggested that teachers build on this good practice to enhance the teaching and learning process.
Lesson development in most cases relied on a very thorough regime of questioning by teachers. Question and answer sessions were employed for revision from the outset of most lessons, to help monitor student learning, and as a central means of developing new content as lessons proceeded. The questioning was also used very effectively to engage students in the learning throughout the lesson. Students were challenged by questions set by the teacher. A very healthy mix of individually-directed and general questions, and lower and higher order ones, was employed, with teachers moving easily from hand-picked respondents to seeking volunteers or chorused answers, particularly for reinforcement purposes. As a rule, students were very responsive and accurate in their answering too.
When challenged by questions from the inspector, the students clearly showed their understanding and their ability to respond, beyond factual recall, addressing deeper analytical questions. This was also illustrated by the students’ ability to link topics to areas of the syllabus studied in previous lessons.
Overall, lessons proceeded at a smart pace, which resulted in a realistic amount of work being completed in the allocated time. Classroom management was good and a pleasant and positive atmosphere was predominant. The students were attentive and participated well in the learning process. Students received individual attention and affirmation from their teachers and their contributions to the lessons were welcomed and appropriately addressed. Teachers deserve congratulations for their success in instilling in students an interest in and enthusiasm for science.
A range of assessment modes is used to assess student competence and progress. These include written homework assignments and many instances of topic tests. Twice-yearly formal examinations are held for all class groups except TY students. The non-State examination classes have these examinations at Christmas and summer, while Leaving Certificate and Junior Certificate classes sit examinations in November and have their pre-examinations in the spring. It is laudable that consideration is being given to the practice of setting a common summer examination papers for first year students. It is recommended that teachers actively pursue this as common programmes of work are being further developed. Such practice is to be encouraged as it helps to establish a common direction for the subject, whilst ensuring consistency and cohesiveness within the department.
Assessment for Transition Year students is generally in the form of project work, affirmation being conferred in part through display of said work. Student practical work in Chemistry is evaluated by the principal and other science teachers. This excellent practice of assessing student practical work is certainly more evidence of the high level of collaboration and cooperation that exists in Clonakilty Community College.
Student learning is assessed within the Junior Science lessons through teacher questioning and through some monitoring of written homework. The standard of student work in the copies examined was of a good level and reflected the mixed ability structure of the Science classes.
Students have a laboratory notebook in which they record all their investigative work. On examination of these it was found that in the main, all mandatory investigations to date were written up under suitable headings incorporating well-labelled diagrams and contained results gathered by the students themselves. Such experience is of benefit to the students in developing skills relating to the recording and interpretation of scientific data in accordance with the objectives of the syllabus. It is recommended that the good practice of assessing students’ practical laboratory notebooks as a component of the end-of-term examinations and which is employed in some instances, be introduced to all year groups where appropriate. This practice is encouraged as it reflects the assessment objectives of the Junior Certificate syllabus, and an aggregate mark that includes all components of the examination provides a more accurate indicator of the individual student’s ability in the subject. It also ensures regular monitoring of student laboratory work. During the course of the inspection the assessment of student practical work was employed as a means of revision. This is excellent practice.
Attendance rates and assessment results are recorded in teachers’ journals in almost all cases. This good practice helps to build a profile of students’ engagement, progress and achievement in the subject over a period of time. State examination results are analysed and a system is in place to identify and monitor under-performing students. An additional system has been initiated during the current academic year to motivate third-year students in particular. This is commended. A good level of contact is maintained between the school and parents. In addition to formal examination reports, which they receive twice a year, ongoing student progress is also given to parents through parent teacher meetings and the student journal. Parents may also meet with management and teaching staff by appointment. This is commended.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
There is very good whole school support for the sciences, as evidenced by the provision of Science as a core subject in junior cycle, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Agricultural Science and Horticulture and Agricultural Studies in senior cycle, and General Science as a component of the hair-dressing Post Leaving Certificate course
The school is fairly well resourced for the teaching of the sciences with two well-equipped laboratories and a demonstration room. Due to restrictions with laboratory access, the principal is proactive in a building project for the school involving an extension, in which a separate chemical store is proposed.
A fine quality of teaching and learning was observed in Science. A variety of methodologies were employed, including excellent use of ICT and student practical work. The use of the scientific language through the medium of Irish is at a high level.
The science teachers are dedicated and adopt a collaborative approach to their work. This is evidenced by their willingness to share resources and their collaboration for assessment of student practical work.
Noteworthy formal and informal cooperation has initiated the development of a common programme of work in Junior Science and facilitated the planning for resources. A high level of planning for individual lessons, including the development of electronic resources enhanced the teaching and learning of the sciences in the school.
A good and, in some instances, excellent teacher-student rapport enhanced student learning. Student participation was encouraged and effective use was made of student affirmation.
It is noteworthy that assessing students’ laboratory notebooks as a component of the end-of-term examinations is employed in some instances. As an area for development, this good practice could be built upon and introduced to all year groups.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
The appointment of a subject coordinator in the science department on a rotational basis and the minuting of formal department meetings would further support the planning and organisation of resources and the advancement of subject planning.
Common programmes of work, incorporating appropriate common assessments should be devised for all year groups in the sciences.
Teachers should explore the application of the investigative approach to a greater extent and plan for greater student self-directed and discovery learning, especially when they are engaged in practical work.
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.