An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Biology
Roll number: 72180 K
Date of inspection: 11 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Biology
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Inver College, Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan. 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 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 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.
The school has two Science laboratories and a demonstration room, all of which are bright and well maintained with an appropriate allocation of resources. One laboratory has an adjacent preparation and storage area while a further preparation and storage area is shared between the second laboratory and the demonstration room. Both storerooms are tidy and well organised with some of the apparatus for the Junior Certificate investigations in separate storage containers. This level of organisation is commendable. The school has a Health and Safety Statement, which is dated 2004-5, and it is suggested that this be reviewed. Appropriate health and safety apparatus were available in the laboratory and it is commendable that Rules of the Laboratory were displayed prominently, both in the laboratory and in some of the student notebooks. In order to augment these health and safety features it is recommended that management provide a lockable flameproof cabinet for flammable chemicals and a lockable press for toxic chemicals. Each laboratory is equipped with Broadband internet access and the Science department has one laptop and data projector with which to access this. In order to promote the use of ICT in lessons it would be beneficial if the demonstration room was also equipped with a data projector. Advice on the use and integration of ICT may be accessed through the National Centre for Technology in Education (NCTE), http://www.ncte.ie
Science is currently a core subject in first year and there are four class groups. Due to the low intake of girls in first year, two of these classes are mixed gender and the other two consist solely of boys. Second and Third year Science classes are of mixed ability. The senior cycle in the school offers a range of programmes including an optional Transition Year, Leaving Certificate Applied, the established Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme. The Transition year program contains a module of Science and forms four class periods in the school week, a time allocation which is appropriate. All three Science subjects are offered at senior cycle and it is commendable that management has retained both Physics and Chemistry on the curriculum despite low numbers. Senior cycle Biology is allocated five periods per week, which is appropriate.
Junior Certificate Science and senior cycle Biology are allocated an appropriate number of double periods in the school week. During the evaluation it was reported that some junior cycle science classes had difficulty in completing an appropriate number of mandatory practicals, partly due to the fact that access to the laboratory was limited to one double period every fortnight, and it is commendable that management now strive to maximise laboratory access where possible in order to provide more opportunity for investigative practical work. Some Junior Certificate Science classes are currently split between two teachers and it was also reported during the inspection process that, due to this partition it is difficult to adhere to an agreed sequence of topics. It is recommended that management address this staffing arrangement in order to promote continuity of topics and lessons.
Formal meetings of the Science team have been held in order to plan some programmes of work and it was reported that the Science team rotate the informal position of co-ordinator on a yearly basis so that one teacher is not solely responsible for ordering stock and materials. Minutes of the formal meetings were available during the evaluation and this is good practice. In addition, it is praiseworthy that the Science teachers engage in regular informal meetings.
Some of the Science team have attended the in-service courses for the Revised Junior Certificate Science syllabus and Leaving Certificate Biology course. It is recommended that, where Science teachers have missed in-service training, that the appropriate support services be contacted in order to remedy this shortfall. Management are encouraged to put practice in place whereby teachers who have missed courses can avail of the expertise of their colleagues and where materials can be disseminated among the Science team.
There is good support for co- and extra-curricular activities in the school. Third Year Science students have taken part in a cross-border venture with St Mary’s High School, Newry, Co Down. This project on Seafood sponsored by BIM included a day trip to the aquarium in Portaferry, a visit to the Oyster farm in Carlingford and to Morgans Fish Processing plant. Three teams are currently working on their entries for the BT Young Scientist Competition. One group of students have taken part in the Bord Bia “Healthy Eating Challenge” in conjunction with the Home Economics department. Students are also encouraged to enter for the Remedy.ie essay competition and the RDS Young Science Writers competition. The school had success in the RDS Young Science Writer in 2005-6 with one TY student who hopes to enter again this year. The Science department have also planned for sixth year Science students to visit the Conway Institute in UCD and TY students have the option of completing work experience there. In addition, the LCA group crafted the electronics equipment for use by future students in the Electronics section of the course. Ecology fieldwork is carried out in Dun a’ Rí, Kingscourt, Co Cavan. These extra- and co-curricular activities are to be highly commended and the teachers involved are to be congratulated for their commitment, without which the students would not benefit from such stimulating experiences.
Planning documentation for both Junior Certificate Science and Leaving Certificate Biology was available during the evaluation. It is commendable that the Science team have endeavoured to develop long term collaborative plans which are syllabus-based and reflect SDPI guidelines. It is suggested that the Science team continue to review and revise these plans on an annual basis. It is praiseworthy that the plans contain a collaborative list of topics to be covered by each year group and it is recommended that all Science teachers strive to adhere to this programme of work where possible. It is recommended that the lists of topics to be covered in each year group be distributed to students in order to give them responsibility in, and a structure for planning their revision.
In most classrooms visited short term planning was good. Materials and apparatus to be used in the lesson had usually been prepared in advance and where the objectives of the lesson were outlined clearly at the outset of the lesson it usually followed a structured pattern and students were engaged in their own learning. This contributed to the overall quality of the teaching and learning in the lessons. Teachers should review lessons where the lack of a pre-planned structure to the lesson might result in the lesson being ill-paced and insufficient time for an appropriate conclusion such as a summary, recapitulation or in some cases, allocation of homework.
A science cupboard is located in the staff room which houses planning documentation, worksheets, Overhead projector transparencies, CD-ROMs, Science magazines and other planning resources. All Science teachers have access to this facility and it is suggested that they add to it as individual resources are developed.
During the evaluation a range of lessons was visited from both Junior Certificate Science and Senior Cycle Biology. Topics observed included the effect of pH on enzyme activity, food and food tests, the eye and light, classification and bacteria, arthritis and cells. These topics were taught using a variety of methodologies which included questioning, investigative practical work, boardwork, paired activity, use of worksheets, CD-ROMs, video, models, posters, newspaper clippings and downloaded colour pictures.
The most successful lessons made use of a range of appropriate methodologies and progression from one to the next was seamless and included a good mix of active learning practices as well as whole class and differentiated teaching strategies. It is recommended that the wider use of this approach be adopted where possible. Use of video was also observed in some lessons. This can be used as a useful tool at intervals to clarify and reinforce lesson content, particularly in a structured context where it is appropriate to the lesson content. However, teachers should try to avoid over-reliance on video material, particularly if it is not wholly relevant to the lesson content and does not provide opportunity for immediate and appropriate pupil follow-up activity. Lessons observed were generally to mixed ability groups and teaching was usually tailored to cater for a range of abilities. Some praiseworthy differentiated practice included emphasis on pronunciation of key words, spelling of key words and noting them on the whiteboard. Some Science teachers had also developed differentiated worksheets which is laudable practice. When whole-class teaching occurred at the end of some of the observed lessons, it helped to draw together key points for the student under the guidance of the teacher and was very effective.
Questioning was used as an effective teaching methodology in some lessons observed. It also served as a useful method of keeping students alert and focused on the task in hand. There is a need to guard against chorus answering and some attempts to do this were observed in a number of the classrooms visited. Strong links with prior learning were established at the start of the lessons through the effective use of question and answer sessions. A mix of global and directed questions ensured that students were reminded of content covered in previous lessons.
The atmosphere was generally positive in the lessons observed. Teachers affirmed good practice and discipline issues were dealt with sensitively. After some lessons potential classroom management procedures were discussed and it was recommended in some lessons that the overall classroom seating plans and composition of groups be revisited in order to promote better pupil engagement with the lesson content.
Where practical activities were observed they usually began with a plenary session where apparatus to be used was discussed and instructions were clarified. In some lessons good use was made of the whiteboard to note key procedures and to draw and explain diagrams of apparatus. During some of the practical activities worksheets were completed. These were well designed and helped to focus the students on their task. A successful approach observed was the use of a plenary recall session near the completion of practical classes. Students had the opportunity to share and discuss their results and conclusions, under teacher guidance. This also allowed for discussion of anomalous results and fair testing which is good practice. In some classes observed students worked confidently and showed good competence in using the laboratory apparatus. They worked with due regard for health and safety issues and displayed good routines and practices, particularly in setting up and clearing away apparatus. This contributed positively to the pacing of the lesson.
A range of assessment activities is utilised in Inver College and it is important that all teachers engage in verification of learning taking place. Formative assessment practices utilised by the Science department included questioning, homework, experiments, projects, checking of exercise book work and observation of student activities. Some continuous assessment was carried out using end of unit tests, while summative assessment practices in use take the form of Christmas and summer tests, mock exams, coursework investigations and mandatory experiments. End of term examinations take place for first, second and fifth years at Christmas and summer. Examinations for certificate examination classes take place in November with mock exams in the second term. Results of these exams are conveyed to parents in school reports. Formal communication with parents also takes place at the parent teacher meetings while regular informal contact is via the students homework journal which parents are encouraged to monitor and sign.
During the evaluation a range of mandatory practical notebooks, class work notebooks and homework exercise books was observed. All Junior Certificate Science students are allocated a notebook to record their mandatory practical work in September of first year. It would be beneficial to students to have a list of the mandatory practicals planned for their year group at the beginning of each year to encourage students to keep their records up to date.
Notebooks observed displayed a range of abilities, which generally reflected the mixed ability nature of the classes observed. Some notebooks were maintained to a high standard and were checked and annotated regularly. This is good practice and it is recommended that this practice be extended throughout the Science department where practicable. Some Junior Certificate Science classes are currently split between two teachers and it was observed in student notebooks that some students used the front of their notebooks for class work with one Science teacher and the back of the notebook for class work with their second Science teacher. However, the majority of student notebooks did not maintain this segregation and as a result classwork topics were not recorded as one unit of work. It is recommended that further collaboration be undertaken in order to clarify this situation to students in order to allow them to organise their notebooks appropriately.
Homework tasks were generally assigned at the end of the class and most homework exercise books showed evidence of checking and annotation, which is praiseworthy. It is recommended that the Science team consider the development of common correcting practices and put in place some procedure for follow-up on corrections and comments made in all notebooks. It is laudable that the Science team have planned a common Christmas test for all first year students. In summer assessments some teachers allocate a percentage of the overall mark towards practical work completed by students. It is recommended that this good practice be extended across the Science department, where practicable.
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 teachers 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
Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Division of J. Cert classes between 2 teachers minimised and a sequence of topics has been agreed plus a more continuous entry of project work in student notebooks.
Plans are being made to purchase a lockable flameproof cabinet for flammable chemicals and a lockable press for toxic chemicals.