An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science
Dromcollogher, County Limerick
Roll number: 71850B
Date of inspection: 17 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Hazelwood 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 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 teachers.
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 Science subjects offered by the school are Junior Certificate Science, Leaving Certificate Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. Science is a core subject at junior cycle. Students may potentially study all three senior-cycle Science subjects. The school offers the Transition Year programme. Within the school, this is an optional programme and it contains modules of Science subjects. Students studying the Transition Year programme therefore gain valuable exposure to senior-cycle Science subjects and this helps them when making their senior-cycle subject choices. There are good supports in place to assist all students in their subject choices at senior cycle. These supports include access to guidance counselling, open nights for parents where information on senior-cycle choices is disseminated, advice from subject teachers, and assessment instruments to profile students’ aptitudes. Good practice was reported where students who chose a senior-cycle subject and subsequently wished to study a different subject from the same subject group were accommodated. It is noted that the option groups to which subjects belong do not currently vary from year to year. A significantly greater number of girls than boys study Biology and significantly more boys than girls study Chemistry and Physics, currently. In this context, it is advised that the school review the senior-cycle option choices and consider how construction of option choices and related supports can assist the achievement of gender balance in subject uptake at senior cycle.
Discussion revealed that senior school management and the Science teachers work well together in an atmosphere of mutual support and respect. There are good practices in place that support the induction of a new teacher. These include meetings with senior school management and informal mentoring by subject teachers. An information booklet that will assist in the induction of new teachers is currently being prepared. This work is acknowledged and encouraged.
The weekly time allocation for Science is four lesson periods. This is appropriate. The time is distributed as one double lesson period and two single lesson periods weekly during first and second year and two double lesson periods during third year. The provision of a weekly double lesson period facilitates student performance of investigative, experimental work on which the syllabus is predicated. For the purposes of increasing the number of class contacts during third year, it would be beneficial if the school reviewed the current allocation of lesson periods.
The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) facilities available to the Science staff include internet access in the laboratories, access to a computer room for subject teaching, a laptop computer, and data projector. Use of ICT resources such experimental simulations, visual learning aids, and material provided at in-service education courses was reported.
This is the first year in which Science classes are of mixed ability. Currently, they are streamed in second and third year. The school is encouraged in its development of mixed-ability class groupings in Science. Support in the area of mixed-ability groupings can be accessed from the Second Level Support Service (SLSS), www.slss.ie. Classes generally retain the same teacher throughout junior cycle. This is good practice as it supports continuity of learning.
There is good support for students with special educational needs. There is liaison between the Science teachers and the school’s learning support team. This liaison supports the sharing of strategies relevant to students’ individual learning needs. Individual education plans are available for all students with special educational needs and this is best practice. A very high level of collective and individual commitment to meeting students’ individual learning needs was evident during the inspection. It was noted, for example, that students have benefited from additional classes provided by members of the Science staff in their own time. Teachers’ dedication and commitment to meeting students’ learning needs are acknowledged and commended.
Materials and equipment are purchased following requisition by the Science teachers and discussion with senior school management. The Science teachers have put in place appropriate systems to monitor and plan for the purchase of materials and equipment and these systems are working well.
The school has two Science laboratories with an adjoining preparation area and chemical store. These facilities were viewed during the inspection visit. The Science facilities are bright, well maintained, and in very good repair. Good work has been done in the preparation area in organising and storing materials and equipment. Good work has been done in the chemical store in classifying and coding chemicals. Review of the storage of chemicals to assure that they are stored in accordance with best safety practice and Department of Education and Science recommendations is encouraged.
The school reports that its health and safety statement was last reviewed in 2005. The Science staff, appropriately, was involved in this review. There is a high degree of awareness among the Science staff of issues relating to health and safety in Science and good work has been done in planning for a safe working and learning environment. Appropriate safety equipment is available in the laboratories. Review of the school’s health and safety statement annually, or more regularly as needs arise, is good practice and is encouraged.
There is good support for teachers’ continuing professional development. All the Science teachers have been facilitated in attending relevant in-service education courses. The VEC scheme provides financial support for teachers engaging in relevant further studies and where possible the school facilitates teachers through flexibility in timetabling. Such beneficial support for teachers in their continuing professional development is commended.
Good progress has been achieved in school development planning. There are policies in place in key areas and the school is in the process of drawing up a five-year plan.
Discussion with the Science staff revealed that there is a high level of collaboration and collegiality and a developed culture of planning among the Science teachers. This supports the professional, industrious work of the Science teachers. There is provision for three formal meetings per year for planning in Science. Minutes are kept of Science meetings and this is good practice. The Science teachers meet informally and frequently throughout the year to plan for the teaching and learning of Science.
Good work has been done in subject planning. In the Transition Year programme, teachers have adopted an integrated approach in the teaching of certain modules. This approach means that students experience Science as an integrated discipline and come to value how knowledge gained in one area of Science is applicable to other scientific domains.
In all cases, comprehensive and beneficial teacher planning documentation was viewed. This documentation included reference to the school’s mission statement, aims of the Science syllabus, seating plans, schemes of work referenced to the syllabus, records of experimental work completed, assessment results, documentation relating to students with special educational needs, safety statement, and code of discipline. Planning documentation for individual lessons observed was presented and this showed that a high level of consideration and preparation had been undertaken. All lessons observed were appropriate to the syllabus. All materials were to hand and had been, appropriately, prepared in advance. Teachers showed a high level of subject matter expertise thus providing evidence for a high level of lesson preparation. Teachers’ good work in planning and preparing for the teaching and learning of Science is commended.
There were high standards of teaching and learning in all lessons observed. Effective use was made of a variety of teaching methodologies. These included directed questioning, use of ICT, student performance of practical work, teacher demonstration, use of whiteboard, recap and repetition, and use of worksheets.
Questioning was used effectively to involve all students in the lesson topics and to assess and motivate their learning. Use of ICT, which was clear, colourful, and dynamic, was successful in capturing students’ interest and in providing visually suitable learning stimuli. Teacher demonstration was helpful in advising students on the procedure to follow in experimental work. The whiteboard was used to identify key scientific terms and so aid students’ scientific literacy. Recap and repetition were used successfully in the lessons observed to focus students’ learning on the main lesson objectives. Worksheets were used effectively to collate information given orally and to guide students in their work. This is good practice. It was noted in lessons observed that attention was paid to encouraging students to develop their phonological skills. Opportunities were provided for students to pronounce and repeat the scientific terms learned during lessons. This is good practice.
Student performance of practical work was a feature of all lessons observed. Work was performed safely. Students worked well in their groups. Good practice was observed where students were encouraged to predict the outcomes of their work and where students recorded their results as they worked. In some lessons observed, there was an emphasis on student autonomy in setting up for their experimental work and this is good practice. A significant attribute of all lessons observed was the manner in which teachers circulated as the students worked, guiding, advising, and affirming students’ work. This shows a commitment to meeting students’ individual learning needs and is good practice.
Lessons commenced with established class routines, such as the correction of homework, and this supported good classroom management. In all lessons observed there was good discipline. Affirmation was used in all lessons observed and was a significant feature of many of the lessons. There was good rapport between students and teachers. It was noted that teachers dealt affirmatively with students’ questions and that there was an atmosphere of mutual respect in the lessons observed.
The atmosphere in the Science laboratories was that of a scientific learning space. The laboratories had scientific photographs, charts, posters, and students’ work on display. Students benefited from such displays as they provided a visually stimulating learning environment. Regular displays of recent student work are good practice as they encourage student motivation and provide a useful learning resource.
Students were engaged and on task in the lessons observed. There were good levels of student participation in lesson activities. Observation of students’ responses to questions posed by teachers, students’ questions and responses, and interaction between the inspector and students showed that students had good understanding and knowledge in the topics under study. It was of note that some students showed good levels of creativity and investigation in the performance of practical, investigative work.
Students’ progress is assessed regularly and reports are sent home periodically. This is appropriate.
Parents’ are informed of students’ progress by use of reports, student diary, and parent-teacher meetings. All teachers keep appropriate records of students’ progress as well as monitoring student attendance and other relevant information.
Samples of students’ work, including test copies, experimental copies, homework copies, and student diaries, were viewed during the inspection visit. It was evident that there is an established culture of monitoring students’ work and of providing guiding and affirming comments on this work. This is good practice. The established practice for students, after guidance from teachers, is to complete the correction of their assessments and for parents to sign the corrected work. This is good practice as it supports students’ learning in a formative manner and serves to keep parents informed of students’ progress. Students’ work included a variety of learning techniques, including mind maps that provide students with a helpful system of collating and revising topics studied. Examination of students’ experimental copies showed that in some classes students are encouraged to record the write up of their experimental work in their own words. The subject planning process could be used to consider the development of this practice at junior cycle. It was noted that students should be advised to include a description of the planning undertaken when writing up their experimental work. In all samples of work examined, it was noted that students, relative to their year groups, had completed a satisfactory level and amount of work.
Observation and feedback to students while they perform their work and monitoring of students’ experimental copies are the main methods used to assess and reward students’ performance of practical work. There is a “Student of the Year” award in Science for the student who gives the “best endeavour” in each class. This supports and affirms students in their work in Science. In building on the existing good practice it is encouraged that the Science staff further develop the range of strategies in use that give credit for student performance of practical work.
The Science teachers are enthusiastic in and committed to supporting students’ participation in extra-curricular and co-curricular activities. Students have been active in the Young Scientists and Technology Exhibition, poster competitions, essay competitions, Science quizzes, Science camp, and Science fairs. There are established co-curricular links with topics in Social, Personal, and Health Education (SPHE), Home Economics, and ICT classes. Teachers’ contributions to supporting students in this variety of activities is acknowledged and commended.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development 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 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.