An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Biology
East Glendalough School
Station Road, Wicklow Town
Roll number: 81016V
Date of inspection: 3 April 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
This report has been written following a subject inspection in East Glendalough School. 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 the subjects 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 subject teachers and to the principal. 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.
A system of subject sampling is in place in this school and Junior Science is a core subject for first year following which science is an optional subject for second and third year. Junior Science is strongly promoted and the uptake of science is very high. The classes are mixed ability in nature and composed of a maximum of twenty four students. The time allocated for Science and Biology is appropriate to syllabus recommendations. All class groups are scheduled for laboratory access for one double period each week and the vast majority of single lessons are also scheduled in a laboratory. This is essential for implementation of a practical programme of work. Local arrangements are made for laboratory access at other times.
Each of the Leaving Certificate Science subjects; Biology, Physics and Chemistry, is offered as a half-year module in Transition Year allowing students the opportunity to sample at least two of the subjects at senior cycle prior to making choices. The uptake of senior Biology is good. In general, one class group of Biology, Chemistry and Physics is scheduled on the timetable in each year of senior cycle. However, this year two Biology class groups have been formed in fifth year indicating a rise in popularity of the subject. Management strongly supports all Science subjects and demonstrate a solid commitment to maintaining each of them.
There are two laboratories in the school. These have good facilities and are well-stocked. Each laboratory is enhanced with modern charts, student projects and resources on display. The laboratories are located in separate areas of the school and as a consequence of this it has been necessary to develop a full set of resources for Science and Biology in each area. Modern Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and audio-visual equipment including; computer, data projector, internet connection, printer, video are available in each laboratory. A range of audio visual and ICT applications to support teaching and learning in the subjects have been sourced and developed in recent years. It is important that the Science department would continue to source modern resources and to update existing resources on an ongoing basis.
The preparation area adjoining each laboratory is well-organised. Chemicals are stored in a colour-coded system in the chemical store room. Financial support for the purchase of necessary materials and re-stocking is provided by management on a needs basis. The school received an enhanced grant from the Department of Education and Science for the introduction of the revised Science syllabus.
Continuing professional development is supported by management. There has been staff training in ICT and most recently in the area of health and safety and in learning support for students with special educational needs. Science teachers have engaged in national in-service training in both Science and Biology and are committed to the effective implementation of the revised syllabuses. However, not all members of the Science department teach junior Science and as a consequence have not attended that particular in-service. Consideration should be given to scheduling time for dissemination of information gathered at particular in-service trainings to all members of the science department during their team meetings. This good practice will serve to add to the knowledge and skill-set of the department as a whole.
A range of co-curricular activities enhance the provision for science in this school. Students have participated in Science Week, visits to the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, lectures on forensic science and the Trinity College Science Festival. One period in the school week is dedicated to ‘clubs’ and the Young Scientist club has proved popular. Every year the school makes entries to this competition and previous projects have received ‘highly commended’ awards. As well as availing of the school grounds for field ecology, visits to Glendalough for further habitat studies are also undertaken. All of these activities are admirable in fostering active participation and in stimulating interest in the sciences.
There is a co-ordinator of Science in the school. This is a voluntary post and the present co-ordinator has been in the position for one year. It is recommended that the co-ordination of Science be rotated among all Science teachers after a certain time. Subject department meetings are facilitated at the beginning of the school year and also from time to time in place of the weekly staff meeting. The Science department generally meet four to five times per year. Discussions at these meetings include arrangements for laboratory access, co-curricular activities and the development of both a common scheme of work and common school assessments for first, second and third year. These meetings provide good opportunities for a collaborative approach to planning as well as facilitating mutual support and professional dialogue.
Well-thought-out schemes of work have been developed for each class group and good progress has been made with the schedule planned. Some of the schemes listed the associated prescribed practical work for students alongside the relevant topic and made provision for revision time. It is recommended that these be included in all schemes together with provision for coursework B in junior Science. Also existing provisions for assessment of student progress should be included.
In order to further the collaborative planning process it is recommended that a Science plan be drawn up for East Glendalough School. This would involve collating all existing schemes and assessments and should over time be developed to include items such as resource lists, teaching and learning methodologies, provision for students with special educational needs, homework policy, and a long term vision for development of the sciences within the school. Support for the development of subject curricular plans is available at www.sdpi.ie.
The TY plan for Biology includes some contemporary biological issues and provides opportunities for some commendable activity-based learning. However, much of the material in the TY plan includes topics from the Leaving Certificate Biology syllabus, specifically; cell biology, genetics and ecology. In circumstances where topics from the leaving certificate syllabus are covered during Transition Year they should be approached in different manner than they would be for Leaving Certificate. Therefore, it is recommended that the TY Biology plan be reviewed. In order that balance is ensured in the programme that is offered to the student, a policy regarding curriculum content in Transition Year should be discussed with management.
In most classes the purpose of the lesson was established from the outset and the lesson was clearly structured. In these lessons, time was used efficiently. In most cases there was a smooth transition from one stage of the lesson to the next.
In general, high expectations of work ethic and behaviour were set and the students remained focused on the task. In general, student-teacher relationships were positive and a work-orientated atmosphere was evident. Best practice was observed where lessons were presented in a business-like manner. However, in some limited circumstances the atmosphere during the lesson was overly in-formal and this had an adverse effect on concentration levels.
Students were capable of answering questions put to them during the course of the inspection and demonstrated confidence in ability to ask appropriate questions during their lessons. Strong evidence of understanding of previously learned topics was also demonstrated, particularly in the examination classes where revision is ongoing.
Students of Science and Biology are exposed to ongoing practical work and this is commended. Given the time of year, some class groups observed were preparing for the Coursework B component of the junior Science programme. Students demonstrated a good command of the scientific method and an understanding of what was required of them. Students were observed to be planning, designing, and implementing their investigations in small groups. During this time the teachers constantly circulated the classroom challenging the students on their methods and outcomes. Students were observed to share their solutions readily and to take good records. By the end of the lesson there was a real sense of fulfilment among the group that they had satisfactorily achieved the aim of the investigation. All of these activities are highly commended. However, there were also some examples where a more prescriptive approach was taken to student practical work in junior Science. While the activities were well-conducted, allowing the students to take an investigative approach to the particular practical activity would have more accurately reflected the underlying principles of the revised Science syllabus. Such an approach should involve the student in following a logical pattern of questioning and decision-making that enables evidence to be gathered in a manner that is not pre-determined in either procedure or outcome.
During some lessons, the board was used to good effect; in particular to note key terminology, to record student contributions and to make visual presentations using ICT applications. However, there was scope for the use of this technique at other times. In addition, there is scope for the introduction of a wider range of stimulus material to be used during lessons.
A range of abilities presented in each of the class groups visited reflecting the mixed ability setting. Where student practical work was observed, this allowed the teacher the opportunity to check on individual students and to give appropriate attention to students of all abilities. This is commended. However, at other times where the lesson became more instructional, the methodologies used were not varied and did not allow for different learning strategies or accommodate different learning styles. Hence it is recommended that the science department should explore the area of differentiation in Science and Biology teaching.
Although whole staff training in learning support has taken place, there was little evidence that strategies to support students with learning difficulties, specifically dyslexia, were being implemented at classroom level in Science or Biology. While teachers were aware of individual student needs they did not always have specific strategies to deal with these needs. It is recommended that the area of learning support at subject level be immediately addressed and that measures be taken to ensure students’ needs are met in all classes.
Students’ progress is assessed regularly throughout the school year through a range of assessment methods including formal school examinations, class tests, questioning in class, homework and teacher observation. The use of common school assessment with each year group in junior Science is to be commended as it facilitates a collaborative approach to the teaching of Science.
Parents are kept well informed of their child’s on-going progress through an annual parent-teacher meeting for each year group, students’ journals, and school reports. Formal school examinations are held at Christmas and the end of the school year, and the examination classes undertake mock examinations in March. The fifth-year students also undergo tests at Halloween. In addition, for the first two terms in sixth year, the students are given interim bi-monthly reports, based on both effort and a grade derived from a recent class tests.
In most classes, short in-class assessments are frequently given, particularly at the end of a topic and this is considered best practice in supporting student learning. Homework is assigned and the workbook is used with most Science classes. Many class groups are working through examination papers in preparation for their exams. However, it was evident that in some classes the students would benefit from the application of more focused feedback on their written work. The addition of annotated feedback to students’ copies is an important method of indicating to individual students those areas where they are doing well and areas that are in need of improvement. It is recommended that this process be extended to all classes.
The students demonstrated good independent report-writing skills in their laboratory notebooks. Indeed autonomy in this regard is promoted and this is commended. Records of previous investigations are very well presented and are supported by clear conclusions. However, it was found that in some classes these records would benefit from more regular monitoring.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
· Junior Science is a core subject for first year following which science is an optional subject and the uptake of science is very high
· Three Science subjects are available in senior cycle; Biology, Physics and Chemistry
· There is good timetabling provision for Science and Biology
· The two laboratories have good facilities. They are enhanced with modern resources including ICT and are well-stocked
· A range of co-curricular activities enhance the provision for science in this school
· Subject department meetings are held allowing good opportunities for a collaborative approach to planning as well as facilitating mutual support and professional dialogue
· Well-thought-out schemes of work have been developed for each class group and good progress has been made with the schedule planned
· Best practice was observed where lessons were presented in a business-like manner
· Students demonstrate strong evidence of understanding of previously-learned topics
· Students of Science and Biology are exposed to ongoing practical work and there were some excellent examples where students demonstrated a good command of the scientific method and ability to plan, design and implement their own investigations
· Best practice was observed where an investigative rather than prescriptive approach was taken to practical work in junior Science
· The students demonstrated good independent report-writing skills in their laboratory notebooks although these records would benefit from more regular monitoring
· Students’ progress is assessed regularly throughout the school year
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Consideration should be given to scheduling time for dissemination of information gathered at particular in-service trainings to all members of the science department
· The role of voluntary co-ordinator of Science should be rotated among all teachers
· A Science plan should be formulated
· The TY Biology plan should be reviewed and a policy regarding curriculum content in Transition Year should be discussed
· A wider range of stimulus material could be used during some lessons
· In order to better meet the needs of students in a mixed ability setting the science department should explore the area of differentiation in Science and Biology teaching
· Strategies to support students with learning difficulties should be implemented at classroom level in Science and Biology to ensure students’ needs are met in all classes
· The application of annotated formative type feedback to students’ written work should be applied consistently in all classes
Post-evaluation discussions were held with the teachers of Science and Biology and with the principal following the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations were presented.