An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physics and Science
Coláiste Chraobh Abhann
Kilcoole, County Wicklow
Roll number: 76076M
Date of inspection: 21 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Chraobh Abhann. 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 three 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 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.
Coláiste Chraobh Abhann is a Community College which opened in September 2003. There are currently first year, second year and third year classes in the school. The school is planning to offer Transition Year or the Leaving Certificate Applied to its students in the next academic year.
All first-year students study Science. There are six first-year class groups, five in second year and three in third year. Classes are generally banded with streaming within the bands. At the end of first year, students drop one subject. However, the vast majority of students are encouraged to continue with Science and choose the subject. This is commended.
The time allocation to Science is satisfactory. Junior cycle classes have one double and two single class periods in first and second year and two double class periods in third year. The two double periods are timetabled due to the blocking of Science with technology subjects. The practice of having two double class periods has implications for teacher contact with students and continuity of work over the year. In addition it has implications for restricted allocation of assignments and homework to students. It is recommended that the school keeps this arrangement under review.
The planned Transition Year programme will have a number of Science related modules. These include Physics/Electronics, Applied Chemistry, Biology, Food for Thought and Environmental Studies. Students will study each area for a half-year module and each module will be of a two or three class duration. The work of the teachers in drawing up these programmes is commended. Having completed Transition Year the school intends to offer students the option to study Physics, Chemistry and Biology for the Leaving Certificate.
There are five teachers in the school Science department. They keep themselves updated and upskilled with the revised syllabus by attending the junior Science in-service programme. Classes generally retain the same teacher in second year and third year.
The school has three Science laboratories. They are bright and spacious and very well maintained. The walls are enhanced with colourful posters, charts and students’ work. This is commended. One laboratory has a separate preparation/storage room and the two remaining laboratories have a shared spacious preparation area with an adjoining chemical store and optics room. The chemicals are clearly labelled and organised. The optics room is used as a storage area for Physics equipment. Access to laboratories is good with most Science lessons taking place in a laboratory.
Three computers are located in each laboratory. There is one for teacher use and two at the back of each laboratory which students use occasionally for research and projects. The school is awaiting connection to broadband. A data projector is shared between the laboratories. However with the design of the laboratories and in particular the location of a large roof light over the front section of each laboratory visibility of projected material is low. The school is currently investigating possibilities to solve this problem. Occasionally classes are brought to one of the computer rooms. Teachers are encouraged by school management to seek training in the use of ICT in teaching and learning and some are participating in ICT courses. It is recommended that this practise be extended across the Science department. Science related ICT courses are currently available from the Second Level Support Service.
The school is still in the process of stocking the Science laboratories and a large portion of the grants allocated for this purpose remains unspent. It is recommended that in collaboration with the Science teachers that an equipment audit be carried out and a list of essential items be drawn up so that the grants allocated can be utilised.
A current health and safety statement exists. The laboratories have in evidence safety equipment including fire extinguishers, fire blankets and gas and electrical isolation switches. In addition laboratory rules are clearly displayed on the laboratory door. Good procedures are in place for laboratory management and practical work. This is commended.
A Science teacher is designated by the Science department to act as subject co-ordinator for the forthcoming school year. The subject co-ordinator has many responsibilities including acting as convenor and chairperson of subject department meetings, minute taking and submission of minutes to the principal, distribution of subject related material, review of the booklist, supervision of budgets and maintenance of equipment stock records.
School development planning has progressed to curricular areas. Science teachers have met formally on three occasions, twice for Science planning and once for cross-curricular planning. These meetings are minuted. This is very good practice and is commended. Items discussed at these meetings include Transition Year curriculum planning, resources, the booklist, movement between classes, health and safety, maintenance and care of laboratories and inservice. In addition these minutes show that there is evidence of common planning in place including the setting of common examinations. Teachers also discuss how to promote the profile of Science in the school. The work of the teachers in this regard is highly commended.
Teachers submit their individual schemes of work to the principal early in the academic year. In some cases these schemes include topics to be covered each term and resources used in class, aims, teaching approach, assessment, homework, record keeping, project work and events for student participation. It is recommended that this level of planning be extended across the Science department. To follow on from the work done to date it is recommended that a Science plan be drawn up as part of school development curricular planning. This plan should be extended incorporating Transition Year and the senior Science subjects. It should document existing Science policy and plan for the future of Science in the school. In this way issues such as the take up of junior Science and Science subjects at senior level, timetabling of classes, access to the laboratories, time allocation to Science, materials and resources, best practice, agreed learning outcomes and curricular provision could be addressed.
Science staff are well informed regarding students with special educational needs (SEN). Some schemes of work outline the special contextual approach taken by the school. This is commended. The precise nature of the issues is outlined and advice is given on how best to work with SEN students.
There was very good preparation and advance planning of the lessons observed during the course of the visit. Teaching and learning were enhanced as equipment was ready in advance and handouts had been prepared and ready for distribution. The work of the teachers in this regard is highly commended.
Teachers were sensitive to the individual needs of students and circulated giving expert guidance and support when required. Students were generally addressed by name and an atmosphere of mutual respect existed. Students felt affirmed when they had done good work or had given good answers to questions.
The overhead projector and whiteboard were used effectively in some lessons. Key concepts were highlighted and learning was enhanced. There was an example where the overhead projector and whiteboard were used effectively to consolidate student learning in the revision of the conditions necessary for germination. This methodology helped to clarify the explanations of the processes involved and kept students’ attention focused. It is recommended that this practice be used more extensively in all lessons, particularly in class groups that find it difficult to initially settle into the classroom environment. The use of pre-prepared material is very useful in such contexts. ICT was used effectively in some lessons. This practice should be extended across the Science department.
The textbook was used extensively during some classes with students underlining key words. It is recommended that worksheets be used more widely as an aid to focus students’ attention on the material being discussed or under investigation. Follow-up relevant homework questions could be added to the worksheet to further reinforce the content of the lesson.
There was effective use of questioning in all lessons observed. It is recommended that questioning be used as a means of involving all students in lessons. Questions could be addressed to individuals rather than at the group to increase participation levels in the class. There were many questions from students, which were answered skilfully and this sometimes led to a general discussion on the topic under consideration.
Practical investigations formed part of many lessons observed. Clear explanations of practical procedures were given. In all cases there was a strong emphasis on safety. There was an example where students were reminded to wear the safety goggles provided during the investigation and this message was reiterated during the course of the lesson. Students worked collaboratively in small groups. In order to increase participation levels and to increase students’ focus on their work it is recommended that the composition of small class working groups and seating arrangements be reviewed for some classes. In many lessons students carried out the practical investigations enthusiastically. The apparatus was put away in an orderly fashion at the conclusion of each lesson.
In many lessons Science was made relevant and linked to students’ everyday experiences. The emphasis on making Science relevant to students’ lives is commended
All students have class-based examinations at Christmas. First-year and second-year classes have formal examinations at the end of the summer term. Common examinations are given in Science whenever possible. Third-year students sit a “mock” examination before Christmas. In addition teachers hold many class tests, normally at the end of a topic or at the completion of a textbook chapter.
There is ongoing assessment and revision by means of class questioning. Students were generally confident at answering questions on their work during the lessons observed.
Parent-teacher meetings are held for each year group. Reports to parents are computerised and include an indication of student effort, performance, attendance, behaviour and punctuality. Three reports per year are sent home for each student. However, in third-year, students get an additional progress report at Halloween.
The practical notebooks were generally of good standard and annotated with affirmation of good work completed and with suggestions for improvement. It is recommended that this practice be extended across the Science department. In addition it is recommended that notebook assignments be followed up so that suggested corrections are actually completed. Credit should be given in school examinations for practical work completed and recorded. This practice would help to improve the quality of practical work being presented and it would encourage students to have all the required investigations written up.
Each student keeps a journal which acts as a log of the student’s achievements over the year and as a means of communication with parents. It is also useful in monitoring students who are underachieving.
Homework was assigned in many lessons observed. In many cases it consisted of completion of a worksheet or a textbook exercise.
Coláiste Chraobh Abhann has developed a system of rewards for students including special certificates and prizes presented to students on prize day. There are special subject awards including Science. Details of prizes won by students are communicated by means of a special newsletter. The support and encouragement given by the school to all students is commended.
Students from the school have participated in many extra-curricular and out-of-school activities. These include the Science Quiz held during Science Week, the BT Young Scientists’ Competition and the Co Wicklow VEC Environmental Competition in which the school has been very successful in the past. The encouragement and support given by the teachers in this regard is commended.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
· The Science teachers in Coláiste Chraobh Abhann are committed to their work.
· Good planning is shown in the co-operative approach to issues and in the work of individual teachers.
· The lessons observed were in general well planned with a clear structure, delivered at a pace appropriate to the students.
· The practical work was well organised with an emphasis on an investigative approach to learning.
· Assessment of students was carried out on an on-going basis with extra support for students with special education needs.
· The school provides a caring and supportive learning environment.
· There is good whole school support for Science as shown by all students taking Science in first year and the vast majority of students choosing it for the Junior Certificate. In addition teachers are encouraged and facilitated in attending inservice.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following recommendations are made:
· The school should keep under review the practice of having two double class periods for third year students.
· Training in the use of ICT in teaching and learning should be extended across the Science department.
· School management in collaboration with Science teachers should carry out an equipment audit and a list of essential items should be drawn up so that the grants allocated can be utilised.
· The practice of drawing up comprehensive schemes of work should be extended across the Science department.
· A Science plan should be drawn up as part of school development curricular planning.
· A variety of methodologies should be used as an aid to increase the participation and engagement of students with lessons across the Science department. This includes the more widespread use of the overhead projector, ICT and worksheets.
· The composition of small class groups and seating arrangements should be reviewed for some classes.
· The practice of comprehensive annotation of practical notebooks should be extended across the Science department. The notebook assignments should be followed up so that suggested corrections are actually completed. Credit should be given in school examinations for practical work completed and recorded.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and with the teachers of Science at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management at Coláiste Chraobh Abhann is satisfied, for the most part, with the report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science at the second issued by the Department of Education and Science Inspectorate as a result of a subject inspection held during March 2006. The Board believes it to be a reasonably fair and well balanced report which is reflective of the very high standards expected and attained by teachers and management in the provision of a first rate education service for students in the area of Science.
All relevant partners will have an opportunity to discuss and evaluate this report. A full and thorough review of the recommendations will take place and a progressive course of action will be determined. The Science Department teachers will be core to the implementation of this plan.
The second and, in particular, the Science Department members feel encouraged and valued by the very definite strengths identified by the Inspector during the evaluation process. However, with regard to the main strengths identified and recommendations for development in the evaluation the Board of Management requests that the following be noted:
In relation to equipment audits the Science Department regularly conducts audits to ensure that the necessary equipment is available to staff. The Science Department, as in all schools, is fully equipped with the standard listing of equipment and materials for Science, Physics, Biology and Chemistry. The school management has been in a fortunate position to purchase a large amount of additional equipment and materials that enhance in a more than adequate manner the overall requirements of all Department teachers. As needs change, management will fully support staff in the acquisition of relevant new material and in this way the allocated grants will be utilised in a coordinated manner.
The practice of having two double periods in third year for Science results from a lengthy process of consultation in the last academic year. This practice affords students and teachers a better opportunity to address the demands of project and practical work which in considerable for students in the final year of the Junior Certificate cycle. The practice will be reviewed and evaluated regularly as is customary with all policies, customs and practices in the school under school development planning.
The Board hoped that there would have been an acknowledgement of the commitment and dedication shown by Department members and management in the preparation and organisation of the three science laboratories and two preparatory stores in the short period of time since the construction of the school. A large time investment has been made in these areas and health and safety has been strongly emphasised
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The school will review the recommendations for development and act, where appropriate, to progress and improve the quality of learning and teaching in Science. Some actions have already been planned or undertaken and these are outlined below.
The school had already identified the need for a Science Subject plan before the subject inspection. A subject planning inservice for teaching staff has been scheduled with the Regional Coordinator of the School Development Planning Initiative for Tuesday August 29th 2006. The subject plan will draw from the existing well documented customs, practices and policies in the area of Science along with teachers’ schemes of work which were collaboratively developed.
School Management has encouraged and facilitated training in the use of ICT in the learning and teaching of Science. It will continue to do so and regards the upskilling of all teachers at school as a high priority issue. The school has wonderful facilities with each teacher having access to class based overhead projectors, data projectors, whiteboards and computers.
As recommended in the report the awarding of credits for practical work completed and recorded in school examinations has been adopted as a policy by the Science Department.
Finally the school would like to thank the visiting Inspector for his professionalism shown during
the inspection period. Teachers found the process and report to be an acknowledgement of their
enthusiasm, commitment and dedication to the teaching of science at Coláiste Chraobh Abhann.