An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Chemistry
Glanmire Community College
Glanmire, County Cork
Roll number: 76064F
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Chemistry
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Glanmire Community College. 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí 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.
Science is in a strong position in Glanmire Community College. It is a core subject in junior cycle and all Transition Year (TY) students study distinct modules of Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. These subjects are also offered as part of the Leaving Certificate programme. The uptake of Chemistry and Physics for Leaving Certificate is good. The uptake of Biology is very good. The school's commitment to offering the three sciences as compulsory modules in Transition Year (TY), which is an optional programme, is commended, as studentsí are thus provided with the opportunity to develop further their knowledge and understanding of science. 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.
Science classes are of mixed-ability. The time allocation for the sciences at Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate levels is in line with the class-contact time recommended in the syllabuses and supports the delivery of the curricula, with almost all classes receiving an even spread of lessons over the week. This is commended. While acknowledging timetabling constraints, it is recommended that double lessons be allocated to the sciences in TY in order to facilitate the further enhancement of student practical skills. Generally, teachers retain their class groups for Junior Certificate and again for Leaving Certificate. Management should strive to preserve this good practice as it promotes continuity of learning. The school operates a Ďbest-fití model when students are choosing their subjects for Leaving Certificate, thus facilitating studentsí input into devising the option blocks. This is commended. There is good support for students in making their subject and programme choices. This includes timetabled guidance in Transition Year, information nights for parents and students, and information and advice from subject teachers. Third-year students also take aptitude tests. All students are encouraged to take the higher-level examination paper for Junior Certificate. Final decisions regarding levels are generally not made until the pre-examinations. This is commended.
The school is very well resourced for the teaching of the sciences, with three well-equipped laboratories, a demonstration room and a polythene tunnel. Storage and preparation areas adjoin both the chemistry and physics laboratories, and the biology laboratory and demonstration room. It is recommended that the chemical store be vented appropriately to facilitate the required hourly air changes. Commendably, collaboration and cooperation between the teachers in this large science department ensures that all class groups have weekly access to the laboratory. There is a high level of safety equipment, including fire extinguishers, safety blankets, sand buckets and safety glasses, in the laboratories and preparation areas. Safety notices are on display in all laboratories. Good work has been done to ensure the safe storage of chemicals, which are stored in almost all instances according to Department of Education and Science guidelines and best safety practice. The equipment is very well organised. Significantly, following recommendations given during the course of the evaluation, teachers began colour coding the chemicals to facilitate their continuing safe storage. The school has a health and safety statement, which was drawn up in 2004 and is reviewed in a four-year cycle. Consultation with the science department is facilitated through the presence of a science teacher on the schoolís safety committee. This is commended.
An excellent level of information and communication technology (ICT) is available to support the teaching and learning of the sciences. Teachers have their own laptop computers. The laboratories contain three data projectors, data logging equipment, internet access, printers and a digital camera. Overhead projectors and TV/VCR/DVD units are also available. Teachers are encouraged to continue to develop the use of ICT in the teaching and learning of Science and Chemistry. Management is commended on the provision of such a high level of equipment. Financial provision for the replenishment of resources is made on a needs basis. However, it is understood that management plans to introduce departmental budgets in 2008.
The school supports teachersí professional development. Since the revision of the science syllabuses, all teachers have attended seminars and workshops provided by the relevant support services. Management and teachers are commended on their willingness to host in-service training in Chemistry and Physics. Whole-staff development workshops have also taken place on curricular provision and other school-related topics.
There is an appreciation among the science teachers of students with special educational needs. Informal links exist between the science department and the schoolís learning-support team. Reference to the needs of these students is made in various department schemes of work and a list of scientific terms has been made available to the learning-support team. This is commended. To enhance this communication, formal liaison between the science staff and the learning-support team is recommended. Such liaison should provide opportunities for the sharing and dissemination of methodologies and best practice to support teachers in their work with students with special educational needs. Support in this area may also be accessed from the Special Education Support Service at www.sess.ie.
The commitment of time, energy and enthusiasm by science and chemistry teachers and students to valuable co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, which enrich learning, is deserving of praise. Teachers have organised industrial visits and have been involved in science week activities, such as attendance at University College Cork science magic shows and the annual Tyndall lecture, which is hosted by the Institute of Physics. Students have also participated in the Young Scientist and Technology Competition, their achievements being celebrated by displays of their work in the corridor outside the laboratories. Active involvement in initiatives such as the Green Schools Programme and participation in a range of science quizzes stimulate further studentsí interest in science. The science department is commended on the development of links with a number of local industries, which support the teaching and learning of the sciences in the school in a variety of ways including work placement for TY students, sponsorship of safety courses for teachers and provision of visiting speakers.
Very good progress has been made in the area of curricular planning. Subject planning meetings have taken place both in teachersí own time and also during staff meetings. Minutes of these meetings are available in the department folder. The position of subject co-ordinator is rotated and is undertaken by teachers in a voluntary capacity. This is good practice as it broadens the experiences and expertise of all teachers in the department. The duties of the co-ordinator include liaison with management, organisation of meetings and ordering of new equipment and chemicals. This level of commitment to planning is highly commended.
Discussion revealed that there is an attitude of collegiality among the science teachers. The team spirit that is evident within the science department facilitates the high level of collaboration and cooperation which has resulted in the development of a comprehensive department folder. The focus of planning, as evidenced in the department folder has been the development of the science plan. This plan incorporates the schoolís mission statement, the subject disciplineísí aims and objectives, assessment procedures and schemes of work in Science, Biology, Chemistry and Physics. In some instances these schemes, all of which list the topics to be covered, have been expanded to include subtopics, mandatory practical work and timeframes. Cross-curricular links, effective teaching and learning methodologies and lists of resources were outlined on occasion. This is very good practice. It is recommended that the science department continue its good work in planning for the teaching and learning of the sciences. A focus for future work could include further development and sharing of teaching strategies and methodologies.
Detailed TY programmes of work in each of the three sciences identified topics for study, practical work and, in one instance, a plan for studentsí project work, which on completion could be submitted to the Young Scientist and Technology Competition. It is good to note that in some instances teaching and learning strategies were outlined. Students are provided with the opportunity to study areas of science not heretofore encountered. Topics such as the Chernobyl nuclear accident, the history of space exploration and the chemistry of Coca Cola are studied by students. The Green Schools Programme is incorporated into the biology module. This broadening of studentsí scientific literacy is commended.
At individual level, teachers showed considerable evidence of planning and preparation, with folders of resources including handouts, acetates and tests. There were some instances of extensive electronic resources which have been prepared to support teaching and learning. In all lessons seen, teachers were teaching material wholly appropriate to the relevant syllabuses and all requisite materials, including equipment and chemicals had been organised in advance.
A good standard of teaching and learning was evident in the science and chemistry lessons observed. Learning objectives were clearly outlined and the subject material was presented effectively to the students. The pace of instruction was in keeping with the needs of the students. There were some good links with everyday-life science, thus making the subject relevant and tangible. For example, an element from a hot water tank, on which limescale had built up, clearly illustrated one of the problems associated with hard water in homes in certain areas of the country. Cross-curricular linkage with Geography was observed in another lesson.
A commendable variety of teaching methodologies were employed, which were effective in engaging students purposefully in their work. These included student practical work, teacher demonstration, questioning and discussion. Good use was made of appropriate methods of teaching which were suited to the level of ability and interest of the students. The subject material was explained effectively, these explanations often being prompted and enhanced by skilful questioning. In one instance, to promote learning, individual students were asked to remember one key new term as the lesson progressed. During the short recap sessions, which occurred throughout the lesson, individual students recalled their key terms and with the help of peers explained the underlying concepts. This is excellent practice.
Teachers used questioning as a means of involving students in the lessons. Questioning was employed in a successful manner to build up lesson content, and as a method of recapping at the end of the lessons in order to ascertain and consolidate the learning that had taken place. It was good to note that in some instances, probing questions were appropriately structured in order to support students in their answering.
In most of the lessons observed, use was made of a range of suitable resources, such as overhead projectors, work sheets, DVDs, scientific models and equipment, to improve instruction, to help develop studentsí understanding of difficult concepts and to reinforce learning. The blackboard and overhead projector were utilised effectively to highlight significant points. Information and communication technology (ICT) was effectively and innovatively integrated into lessons. It was successfully employed to provide visual images. In one instance, interactive software was very effective as a means of actively engaging students in reviewing their learning of the skeleton. The employment of a short animation on the working of the heart contributed to studentsí enjoyment in that lesson, while at the same time, constructively reinforcing their learning. As a tool PowerPoint would be more effective when only the main points are displayed.
Practical work was highly organised, and students were supported in their work as their teachers circled the room. 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. While there was some evidence of the application of an investigative approach, it is recommended that teachers explore this to a greater extent and plan for greater student self-directed and discovery learning, especially when they are engaged in practical work. It is recommended, furthermore, that practical work would not be written up in advance of the activity, as this precludes students from using an investigative approach. In instances where plenary sessions were employed on completion of practical activities, they were very effective in consolidating studentsí learning. Teachers are encouraged to employ this strategy following all studentsí hands-on practical work.
Good, and in some instances very good, relationships were evident between the teachers and students. Lessons were presented in an enjoyable way in the main and studentsí contributions were welcomed and praised. It was evident that in many instances the teacher instilled confidence in the students. The practical activities were conducted in an orderly manner, and the teachers enticed the students to observe the clear rules of behaviour which had been laid down.
At the end of the lessons the teachers reviewed studentsí learning and in a minority of cases gave an outline of what would be done in the next lesson. This greatly adds to continuity of learning and aids the studentsí understanding of the progress they are making in the subject. In all lessons observed appropriate homework was assigned, which was seen to expand on and enhance the work carried out in class.
It was clear, from questioning the students, that they have an appropriate understanding of the syllabus content. When questioned by the teacher and the inspector, generally they were able to answer both recall and higher order questions competently.
There was evidence of display of studentsí work, which is commended as it provides public acknowledgement of studentsí efforts along with contributing to the visually stimulating environments provided by scientific posters and plants in the laboratories. The motivational benefits that accrue from such an environment should not be underestimated and are commended.
Formal assessments are held for non-examinations classes at Christmas and summer. Mock examinations are held for third-year and sixth-year students. The practice of setting common Christmas and summer examination papers in junior cycle is excellent, as it helps to establish a common direction for the subject, whilst ensuring consistency and cohesiveness within the department. The science department also sets end-of-topic tests to monitor studentsí ongoing progress. Continuous assessment occurs throughout lessons by means of questioning. It is understood that TY students conduct a presentation on the findings of their research projects, which are also displayed at the end of the year. This work is a component of assessment in TY.
All students have laboratory notebooks or workbooks in which they record all their investigative work. These books are generally of a high standard and are monitored in the main. This is laudable. It is recommended that the good practice of assessing studentsí practical work or laboratory books as a component of the end-of-term examinations, and which is currently the practice for Biology, be introduced to all year groups. Such practice is encouraged as it reflects the assessment objectives of the Junior Certificate syllabus in particular, and an aggregate mark that includes all components of the examination provides a more accurate indicator of the studentís ability in the subject.
Glanmire Community College has a homework policy in place. There was evidence of good practice with regard to the regular setting of homework in the teaching of Science and Chemistry. Ongoing and regular monitoring and assessment of studentsí homework would ensure that they can rely on corrected work and constructive teacher comment as a sound basis for revision, especially in senior cycle, as was evidenced in some instances. Teachers should consider building on this desirable practice of teacher annotation, which reflects the principle of assessment for learning (AfL). Further information on AfL can be accessed at www.ncca.ie.
Written reports are issued to parents following both formal assessments and following midterm tests. Communication with parents is also facilitated via parent-teacher meetings and the school journal. Letters of concern and ťacht are used as additional forms of communication for parents, if required. Management conducts an analysis of state examination results, which is communicated to relevant subject departments.
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 Chemistry 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
The Management of the school are satisfied that it is a fair reflection of the work of this department and the school overall.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
1. Investigate ways to effectively ventilate the chemical store
2. Consider the inclusion of double lessons in TY where possible.† It has been considered in the past.
3. Science teachers will take onboard the methodological and assessment recommendations made