An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Biology
Charleville, County Cork
Roll number: 71080B
Date of inspection: 9 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and biology
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mannix College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science and Biology and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of these subjects 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 teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and all written preparation presented. 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, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Junior Certificate Science forms part of the core curriculum in the school, which is to be commended. The majority of classes are of mixed ability students with some smaller classes created on occasion to facilitate students with special educational needs. This is commendable and ensures all students have experience of Science to Junior Certificate. Students retain the same teacher for the duration of the Junior Certificate Science programme, which is good practice.
Both first-year and second-year science classes have a weekly time allocation of one double lesson and two single lessons, which is within curriculum guidelines. This is increased to two double lessons for third-year students, which is to be commended. However currently for some second-year students their double class is split by the morning break while other second-year students have their two single classes timetabled for the same day. It is important that these types of situations are avoided in future timetables.
On completion of the Junior Certificate, students enter the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). Students have a choice of two science subjects, Biology and Physics, to study as part of their LCVP. Students are surveyed prior to entry to year one of LCVP to decide subject choice. A “best fit” model is applied, from which option blocks are created. The two science subjects occur in different option blocks. Currently in year one, Biology is opposite Engineering and in year two it is opposite Business Studies. As a result, students can do all senior science subjects currently on offer in the school.
Currently a large percentage of senior cycle students study Biology. The time allocation for this science subject is within curriculum guidelines. It is currently allocated two double lessons and two single lessons in year one of LCVP and two double and one single lesson in year two of LCVP. Though the time provision is within curriculum guidelines, year two students have Biology on three days only each week in contrast with year one students who have Biology on four of the five school days. In addition, some year one students have their two double lessons on the last two periods on two days. These timetabling decisions could be reviewed for the future.
There are two teachers of the sciences in the school, with one teacher teaching only Leaving Certificate Physics with the other teacher teaching the remaining sciences in the school. The school has one laboratory and one demonstration room. They are located opposite each other. A preparation and storage area is attached to the laboratory. The laboratory has recently been refurbished. Both facilities are well-maintained and are effective locations for the delivery of the sciences, which is to be commended. All science classes occur within the science facilities, which is very good, practice. Considerable organisation of material and equipment was evident within the facilities, which is to be commended. The use of labelled plastic containers is noted and it is acknowledged that the level of organisation viewed took a lot of time. Materials were accessible to both the students and teacher, which is to be commended with some materials also located in the demonstration area.
The school has a health and safety statement. Management stated that a yearly health and safety audit occurs in the school, which involves the science teachers and is good practice. There is a high level of safety equipment such as fire extinguishers, safety blankets and safety glasses in the laboratories. Additional safety signage could also be considered in the laboratories. Excellent work has been done to ensure the safe storage of chemicals. 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 are available to all staff. Further copies if required can be downloaded from the internet at http://www.psi-net.org/chemistry.
All teaching areas viewed had an overhead projector and a computer. Data projectors, television and video are also available resources in the school for use in the teaching and learning, which is to be commended. Management allocates a yearly budget for materials and equipment to ensure the upkeep and development of the sciences in the school. This practice is running satisfactorily in the school as was evident from the amount of resources viewed within the laboratory.
A large amount of colourful visual stimuli, mainly in the form of charts, diagrams and models was observed in the science facilities, which is to be commended. Some material was of student origin, which is to be encouraged. The use of display boards, for recent science-related articles, could be considered. Regular updating of the current visually rich environment should help to maintain the interest and stimulation of the students.
Opportunities for continual professional development in Science and previously in Biology and the physical sciences have been availed of by the teachers and encouraged by management.
The school is engaged in the process of school development planning. Due to the size of the school, teachers of the Science, Technologies and Home Economics have been assigned together for curricular planning. Management has allocated meeting times for each subject grouping. The minutes of these meeting are recorded. Comprehensive junior Science and senior Biology plans were presented. This is to be commended. Plans related to the organisation of material, records of student achievement, in-career development, and support and planning for students with special educational needs. Areas such as cross-curricular planning and the integration of information and communication technology (ICT) could be considered for the future. Any plan created will require regular review and should be modified where necessary to meet the needs of the students. Additional materials in relation to junior Science and Biology can be accessed, for example, on the following websites, www.bsstralee.ie and www.juniorscience.ie with further links to other relevant information sites.
Very comprehensive short-term planning was evident in the classes observed. This was reinforced by the written documents presented and with an observed familiarity with the subject matter presented. A coherent theme was also present in the classes. There was also prior preparation of the materials and the apparatus required for demonstration and student-centered investigative work. In addition, student learning was aided through the use of a variety of resources, which included the use of textbooks, the whiteboard, various types of handout material and use of the overhead projector, which are to be commended. Opportunities to extend student learning outside the classroom have also been planned through field trips, quizzes, debating and “Environmental Awareness Week”. Such a range of educational and stimulating activities is praiseworthy.
The observed lessons were disciplined. Classroom management in all cases was effective. A very positive teacher-student rapport was evident throughout the lessons, which is to be commended. Students were generally attentive, interested and anxious to participate well in the learning processes. In general, there was an appropriate pace to the lessons observed which facilitated student learning. A variety of student project work was displayed in the laboratory, which helped to brighten up and enrich the learning environment for the students. Acids and bases, measurement and plant cells were the topics of study in these lessons.
There was a high quality of teaching and learning in the lessons observed. It was quite evident that the lessons had been carefully planned. Both the learning objective and the connection with previous learning were clear to the students. The teaching methodologies observed included student practical work in groups, questioning, explanation, whiteboard work, use of handouts, acetates, worksheets and the textbook. The whiteboard was used effectively to highlight the main points delivered. The use of more colours would enhance the visual nature of this medium. Acetates were generally clear and focused. A computer was available in the laboratory and its use could be integrated in the future planning and teaching of the subjects.
Some practical activity occurred in all the observed lessons and comprised of both mandatory and non-mandatory activities, which is to be commended. Students worked individually or in groups of a maximum of three students during practical work. Work stations were set up around the laboratory in advance. Students made their way to the stations in pre-determined groups. Laboratory coats and glasses were provided and all students were required to wear them. Students were very engaged in their various practical activities. Worksheets were provided in most cases for students to follow and also provided a focus for their work. In advance of the activity, students were given guidance by the teacher. While students were working the teacher circulated around the room giving assistance and answering questions when required, which is to be commended. This would also be an opportunity to ask the students questions and for predictions, where applicable, on what they think might occur before completion of the tasks. They could then accept or reject their initial hypothesis when they finished the investigation. The good organisation allowed the activities to run smoothly. Consideration could be given to alternative methods to carrying out some activities, which would allow more of the laboratory to be used as work stations and also afford the students more space to work. In addition, when stock solutions are required it would be important to have them at different locations within the laboratory to facilitate easier access by the students. When student or teacher movement is anticipated during the lesson the location of students’ bags must always be considered. On completion of the activities students cleaned up, which is good practice. Students were then asked to share their results and conclusions under the direction and guidance of the teacher. This helped to consolidate the learning and contributed to the students’ ability to make a record of their own investigative work. This is good practice and could also be adopted for example to summarise material delivered during a theory class.
It was particularly encouraging to observe a lower-ability class conduct several practical investigations, which were organised in short, achievable units. A short written task followed on a carefully designed worksheet, which allowed student completion according to ability. A sense of achievement resulted and student self-esteem was elevated with affirmation given throughout the class.
All classes began with some form of revision of previous work. This was done through good question and answer sessions. Questioning to named students occurred throughout the lessons observed, which helped maintain the level of student engagement. All responses were affirmed by the teacher. The use of more probing, higher order questions should be considered at times which will assist the evaluation of the students’ level of understanding. Difficulties in student understanding were also identified through the student responses and rectified by the teacher. Students’ prior knowledge about a topic was always explored at first before proceeding. Only when the concept was understood would more scientific terminology be applied, which is good practice. In some instances the repetition of a task in slightly different ways helped with student understanding. Reinforcement of all learning was through the recording of the work. All students had laboratory notebooks in which they recorded all their investigative work. Monitoring of student notebooks is noted and commended. Regular monitoring of student work is encouraged. Homework given was appropriate to the lesson material and was designed to assist the student in learning and retaining the topic. Reference to textbooks was only used to supplement and reinforce the learning and teaching which had already been completed during the lesson.
Student learning is informally assessed through the monitoring of homework and through oral questioning during the lessons. End-of-topic assessments are also used to enable progress to be monitored and serve as an important feedback to students. These tests are administered at the discretion of the teacher during class time on the completion of a topic or unit of work. Results are recorded by the teacher for all tests completed. Details of Assessment for Learning (AFL) methodologies to further enhance the impact of formative assessment on student learning are available on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) website www.ncca.ie. In addition, consideration should be given to awarding students marks for their practical copies as part of their overall grade in the subject. This could have the effect of providing the students with further motivation for engagement with the practical elements of the course.
In addition to the informal assessment, formal assessments are held for all classes at Christmas and summer. State-examination classes have pre-examinations in the spring of their examination year. Currently these scripts are marked externally. Formal reports are sent to parents following Christmas, summer and pre-examinations. In addition to reports, parent-teacher meetings are held for all classes annually.
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 Biology and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
Inspection carried out in accordance with guidelines in a very professional manner.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
Integration of ICT in the teaching of Science and Biology will be further encouraged.
Timetable issues raised will be addressed in the context of option blocks.