An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science
Larkin Community College
Cathal Brugha Street, Dublin 1
Roll number: 76077O
Date of inspection: 10, 11 March, 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Larkin Community 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 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 the 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 evaluation of Junior Certificate Science at Larkin Community College was carried out over two days. It began with a visit to a double second-year science class, followed by a visit to a double third-year science class. These visits were followed by a meeting with the science teachers at which the objectives and procedures of the evaluation were explained, and a meeting with the principal to discuss whole-school support.
First-year students follow seven-week modules in Science, Home Economics and Materials Technology (Wood), in addition to their core subjects. They then choose one of these subjects to continue studying for Junior Certificate. Students are well supported in choosing their subjects with input from their teachers, the guidance counsellor and their parents. Science is a popular choice and the number of students choosing it each year is very encouraging. A combination of mixed ability, banding and streaming is used when forming classes. Management aims for a maximum class-size of twenty-four students, though on occasion, this may be exceeded.
The time allocation for Junior Certificate Science is excellent. Three class periods, in the form of one double and one single period, are allocated to all junior cycle science students. As all single classes are one hour in duration, this means that students receive three hours of Science each week, which is slightly above syllabus guidelines.
Following the Junior Certificate examination, students choose between Transition Year (TY) and the Leaving Certificate programme. Students who opt for TY receive two periods of Science each week and they engage in project work, for example, in relation to the Green Schools programme. Students progressing to Leaving Certificate may choose from the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme or the Leaving Certificate (Established) programme, where Biology is available to them as an optional subject.
There are two teachers of science subjects in the school and both are currently teaching Science. Opportunities have been availed of to release teachers for continuing professional development during recent and current national in-service training programmes in Junior Certificate Science, the Discover Sensors project and the use of Moodle. Management is commended on the commitment given to facilitate attendance at in-service training to date. In addition, the school encourages and facilitates active participation by students in a variety of science-related extra-curricular activities including visiting the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, involvement in the An Taisce Green Schools project and the Exploration Station initiative, and, this year, a proposed visit to the W5 interactive science centre in Belfast. The work of the science teachers in this regard is praiseworthy.
There are two science laboratories in the school. They are in good condition, well equipped and adequate for their purpose. There is a shared storage and preparation room adjacent to the laboratories. The storage area is well stocked, well maintained and well ordered. It is recommended that the storage of chemicals be updated to conform to the latest colour-coded scheme. More information is available on the website of the Chemistry support service at http://chemistry.slss.ie/. Resources available to the science teachers include a computer in each laboratory, a data projector and a printer-scanner. The laboratories are also broadband-enabled. The provision of such resources by management is commended. †All science classes are held in a laboratory. There are appropriate charts and posters on the laboratory walls. This serves to provide an attractive and motivating environment for the teaching and learning of Science and is an example of excellent practice for which all concerned are to be praised. It is recommended that these charts and posters be changed occasionally, in line with the work being done or to highlight student project work.
A range of health and safety equipment was observed, including a first-aid kit, gas and electricity isolation switches, fire blankets and fire extinguishers. It is recommended that white laboratory coats be made available for all students, when carrying out practical work. The school has a health and safety statement that was drawn up by the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee (CDVEC) and adapted to the particular circumstances of the school. The science teachers are involved in the review of this statement, where appropriate.
There is evidence of a strong sense of collegiality among the science teachers. While the teachers work as part of a team and one carries out the role of co-ordinator of the sciences, there is not a formal science department in place. Frequent informal meetings of the science teachers take place and, together, they carry out all curriculum planning, stock control and laboratory management duties as a team. Formal meetings of the science teachers are also held, approximately twice each year, and records of all meetings are kept. The science teachers deserve credit for their level of co-operation. Funding for the purchase of resources for the sciences is provided as requested and teachers report that management has always been very supportive.
Both science teachers presented detailed curricular plans for the Junior Certificate science course. The focus of planning documents is on content, and detailed lists of topics for each week of the year were presented. It is recommended that reference to the syllabus document should also be included in the plans, as this is the primary document that describes the objectives, content and learning outcomes of the course being followed. The topics observed being taught in the classrooms were in line with the planning documents. The science teachers are to be congratulated for their work in the area of curriculum planning. In addition, extensive preparation of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) based classroom and teaching resources has been carried out by one of the science teachers, facilitating the use of Moodle in the classroom. This is praiseworthy.
It is recommended that planning be extended, over time, to include differentiation, and the integration of ICT into teaching and learning. It is recommended that teaching methodologies should be included in planning documents so as to raise teachersí consciousness of the variety of methodologies available to them and to ensure that teachers do not unwittingly restrict themselves to a preferred dominant style of teaching. Finally, it is recommended that the science department also begin planning for assessment. Assessment objectives should be defined for the various tests and examinations held during the school year so that appropriate types of examinations can be administered. Details of Assessment for Learning (AfL) as an approach may be accessed on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at http://www.ncca.ie.
In the lessons observed there was strong evidence of short-term planning. Teachers were familiar with the subject matter of their lessons and there was a theme running through each lesson. Materials and resources necessary for class had been prepared in advance. This preparation contributed to the quality of learning and is praiseworthy.
In all classes visited, the teachers taught with enthusiasm and generated an atmosphere that was inclusive, caring and challenging. Rapport with students was good and this is to be commended. The teachersí approach to their work was professional and business-like and they displayed excellent classroom-management skills. Discipline was firmly and sensitively implemented at all times. There was evidence of differentiation in the manner in which lessons were conducted and all students were given an opportunity to achieve according to their abilities. The teachers had a high expectation of their students and were very affirming of their studentsí efforts. Good progress was made in all lessons. The level of two-way communication in classrooms was relevant to the task at hand. Most students were attentive, interested and anxious to participate in the learning process.
Teachers were very knowledgeable regarding their subject matter. Lessons proceeded at a suitable pace. The topics covered in the lessons observed included sexual reproduction in humans, and the properties of metals and non-metals. Continuity from previous lessons was good and new information was well linked to previous learning. During the lessons the teachers used language that was appropriate to the needs of their students while maintaining the precision required by the subject matter. This is excellent practice.
A variety of teaching methodologies were observed. These methodologies included teacher demonstration, questioning of students, and the use of information and communication technology (ICT). Changes in methodologies were seamlessly integrated into the lessons. There was appropriate use of handouts and student worksheets. Lessons were well structured and students were kept busy and actively engaged at all times. Best practice was seen where previous learning was reviewed, in order to set the stage for moving on. This review was followed by the clear presentation of new material, using appropriate methodologies, and students were provided with opportunities to put the new learning into practice, before a final summarising of the lesson and assignment of homework. This is good practice.† In one lesson observed, ICT was extensively and effectively used. There was a good balance between active learning methodologies and teacher-centred presentations in lessons.
Questioning of students was frequently used to check on levels of knowledge and understanding, which is to be commended. There was a good balance between closed questions, which elicited factual responses, and more open questions, which facilitated higher-order thinking. Best practice was seen where students were given time to formulate their answers and were encouraged to put up their hands before a respondent was chosen. In most of the lessons observed, there was a good balance between global and student-specific questioning. This is good practice. A good level of teacher movement was evident in most lessons observed. This provided an opportunity for teachers to evaluate student performance and to assist students further where necessary.
In one lesson observed, the teacher carried out a demonstration to examine the reaction of a number of metals with water and acid. The teacher prepared the students in advance by reviewing work previously done and explaining the demonstration. Students were then given a worksheet to complete and record their observations. There was an excellent level of informal but appropriate dialogue between the teacher and the students while the demonstration was in progress and the results of the experiments were reviewed afterwards. This is excellent practice.
Good practice concerning the minimal use of textbooks was apparent during the lessons. The homework given was appropriate to the lesson content, was varied as to type and was designed to assist the student in learning and understanding the topic in question. It is important to ensure that the assignment of homework is integrated into the lesson, thus encouraging students to see homework as an intrinsic part of the learning process.
In order for students to make better progress and to put class work in context, it is suggested that the learning goals be clearly outlined to students at the outset of each lesson. These goals should be concise and achievable. They can encourage a degree of self-assessment by students within the class and help individuals to monitor their own progress. They also provide a basis upon which the teacher can summarise the lesson content and the learning that should have taken place, at the end of the class period, and upon which homework can be given.
Students demonstrated a positive attitude towards Science as evidenced by the level of engagement and interest observed during the lessons. Students displayed a very good level of knowledge, understanding and skills during interaction with the inspector. Formative assessment of student learning is carried out on an ongoing basis by questioning in class, through correction of homework, monitoring of studentsí copybooks and through the excellent level of teacher movement and observation of students during class that was noted by the inspector.
Students kept laboratory notebooks up to date as evidence of practical work being carried out. This is a very important aspect of new and revised syllabuses in the sciences. The quality of the notebooks examined by the inspector was excellent due to the extent of attention paid by the science teachers to them, with particular attention being paid to entering the results of each activity and drawing appropriate conclusions. This is excellent practice. It is suggested that laboratory notebooks are annotated directly as part of this process with positive and affirming comments.
Non-certificate examination classes are formally assessed on four occasions each year, at Halloween, pre-Christmas, at Easter and at the end of the school year. Certificate examination classes are assessed at Halloween and pre-Christmas. Questions on mandatory practical work are included in all examinations. This is good practice. Certificate examination classes also sit mock examinations at Easter. The studentsí scripts are assessed by their teachers. Additional testing is at the discretion of individual teachers. Records of assessment are held in teachersí own diaries, in the staff room, and on computer in the school office.
Results of assessments and progress reports are communicated to parents by means of reports following all formal assessments. A total of four reports is sent to parents each year. Communication with parents is also achieved by means of parent-teacher meetings, held once per year for each class, and through parentsí nights and information evenings where relevant. In addition, the student journal, that all students are required to keep, is used to communicate with parents. The school operates an open door policy and parents are encouraged to contact the school if they have any concerns regarding their childrenís progress.
There was evidence of good record keeping by teachers, covering such areas as student attendance, assessment records, work done and homework. This is good practice. The recorded information can be used to build up student profiles and can form the basis of very useful evidence in communicating student progress to parents and in advising both students and parents on choice of programmes and subjects at senior level and on what level of examination paper to choose in certificate examinations.
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 with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published June 2008