An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

 

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of Biology

REPORT

 

Cabinteely Community School

Johnstown Road, Cabinteely, Dublin 18

Roll number: 91310E

 

Date of inspection: 17 April 2007

Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007

 

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Biology

This Subject Inspection report

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

Planning and Preparation

Teaching and Learning

Assessment

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Biology

 

This Subject Inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Cabinteely Community School.  It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Biology and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of the subject 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 principal and 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.

 

 

 

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

 

Leaving Certificate Biology is usually blocked on the timetable so that a higher-level class group and an ordinary-level class group are both formed in fifth and sixth year. The higher-level class group is usually the larger of the two groups. Groupings in Transition Year (TY) and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programmes are mixed ability. The LCA programme in this school includes Science as an elective subject and the two modules taught are the Science and Health module and the Science and the Environment module, both of which contain much Biology. It is commendable that Biology is available to students as a subject option in all programmes of senior cycle.

 

As Science is not a core subject for all students of Junior Certificate in the school, some students choose to study Biology for the first time in senior cycle. All students who opt for the TY programme must take the Biology module and it was reported that this has the effect of increasing the numbers choosing Biology for Leaving Certificate. Having students in a biology class group who have not studied Science presents particular challenges for both the student and the teachers involved. While these students are usually motivated, and apply themselves well, this situation should continue to be closely monitored by management. Parents and students are well informed of the choices of both programme and subjects for senior cycle through information sheets, information evenings and guidance from both subject teachers and the Guidance Counsellor. Physics and Chemistry are also available on the curriculum. The uptake of Leaving Certificate Biology is good, with an appropriate balance of boys and girls choosing the subject.

 

The time allocated to the subject is very good and meets syllabus requirements. All biology class groups have five class periods per week including one double period. All biology lessons take place in a dedicated biology laboratory. This is commended.

 

There are three teachers of Biology in the school and they are assigned to teach the various class groups on a fair, rotational basis. Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is strongly supported and teachers are facilitated in attending training events including inservice in the revised science and biology syllabuses and in the LCA programme. The management of the school gives considerable support to the Irish Science Teachers’ Association (ISTA) and to the teachers by paying for teachers’ membership, subsidising attendance at the annual conference and hosting branch meetings of the ISTA in the school laboratories. Management also attributes much value to CPD in the area of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and has provided free training for all staff in ECDL. Some biology teachers are actively involved with the Biology Support Service (BSS) and with the national Discover Sensors project. This is of immense value to individual professional development and active participation by biology teachers in so much CPD is highly commended. There was evidence that such participation has provided a great source of useful ideas for teaching Biology in all programmes.

 

Laboratory provision is very good as the school has five laboratories and one demonstration room. Where adjacent, the laboratories share a preparation/storage area. Three of the laboratories are fully resourced for the teaching of Biology. Biology teachers are timetabled continuously in their own laboratory. This has obviously benefited the enhancement of each room by individual teachers as a wide variety of visual and stimulating resources, including modern ICT equipment, good quality charts, science magazines and biological models are present in each case. In particular, data logging equipment and internet access are readily available and in regular use. Thorough organisation of materials was evident and these were readily accessible for use during lessons. Notice boards displayed articles on contemporary issues. Student project work was evident in each biology laboratory and much of this work was properly displayed for all students to see. Many of these projects were on interesting topics and were of a very high standard.

 

Good attention is paid to matters of health and safety. The school’s health and safety statement is reviewed annually and safety information is communicated to newly appointed staff in detail. There are emergency shut off valves for the services. End-of-day, weekly and once-a-term safety checklists are in place. Safety rules are discussed with students and these feature in the student journals. Students demonstrated safe laboratory conduct at all times.

 

 

Planning and Preparation

 

A collaborative attitude is taken to the planning for the sciences in the school and this is commended. Science teachers usually meet on six to eight occasions each year. Some of these meetings are organised formally by management, but, for the most part, teachers meet as a science department at times outside their teaching timetables. These meetings provide the teachers with a valuable opportunity to share their expertise as well as to plan for development. Biology teachers consult with each other daily and share resources and interesting ways to teach certain topics.

 

Minutes are taken at each subject department meeting providing an overview of development from year to year. One member of the science department acts as co-ordinator for the subject. The role includes convening and chairing subject department meetings and liaising with senior management as well as overseeing internal school assessments and promoting the subjects. The subject has been co-ordinated with enthusiasm for two years. It is suggested that the role would be rotated periodically.

 

A target plan was set out to promote both uptake and interest in the science subjects. The vast majority of these targets have been met. Many trips and competitions were organised during the school year including: science lectures; the Salter’s Chemistry challenges; the ISTA science quiz; the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition; a science poster competition; a science writing competition; the Green School; visits to Dublin Zoo, the State Forensics Laboratory and to the Conway Research Institute at University College Dublin. Such activities are highly commended.

 

A highly organised approach is taken to subject planning. Members of the science department work together to produce subject plans for each science subject, including TY Science, Leaving Certificate Biology and LCA Science. The subject plans were found to be thorough and contained carefully considered aims. A very good level of differentiation was noted in these plans in both the teaching approaches and the wide range of assessment strategies listed and this helped to ensure that a variety of student abilities were met. This is highly commended. Subject plans are submitted to management at the start of the year and this is good practice. Overall, subject department planning practices are highly commended.

 

The plan for TY Biology is to be commended for the inclusion of learning opportunities that are different to the way topics are usually treated in Biology, including commendable activity-based learning. However, there is scope in the plan for the introduction of topics from outside the Leaving Certificate syllabus and this is recommended for next year. For example, life cycles, horticulture, bioinformatics, bioremediation and cosmetic science.

 

Planning for resource provision is also excellent. Resource packs contained an impressive amount of varied and stimulating learning instruments, such as handouts, presentations and assessment materials to support teaching and learning in Biology. A wide range of DVD material is also available for each topic. The development of resources for the teaching of Biology, and indeed all the sciences, is strongly supported by management who provides a generous annual budget and who have effectively supported teachers by installing modern ICT facilities, including data projectors, in each laboratory. Biology teachers have worked hard to source and develop valuable PowerPoint material for each topic. Overall, a proactive, collegial and professional approach is taken to the on-going development of modern resources for the teaching of Biology. This is very highly commended.

 

The level of preparation undertaken for each lesson observed was impressive. Visual presentations and resource materials were carefully considered in order to maximise opportunities for student involvement and to provide a varied learning experience. The resources used matched the needs and abilities of the student cohort extremely well and complemented each stage of the lessons perfectly. Thorough preparation led to the seamless flow of each lesson from activity to activity. As a consequence focused and productive lessons ensued. This is highly commended.

 

 

Teaching and Learning

 

A strong awareness of the educational potential of each student and a genuine fondness for the student were evident. This made for very positive student-teacher relationships and enjoyable and constructive lessons.

 

Skilful teaching strategies were applied to the teaching of Biology. These were characterised by the utilisation of differentiated teaching and learning methodologies, thorough lesson preparation and a commitment to continually challenge the students in cognitive recall and the application of their knowledge. A range of learning opportunities was provided, including much active learning. Student activity was varied frequently during lessons, thereby providing for differing learning styles. Instruction was effective. Maximum use was made of available laboratory resources. The worksheets used were clear and appropriate to ability.

 

One of the greatest strengths noted during the inspection was the flexibility of teaching style to suit the abilities of the student cohort present in order to meet the intended outcome of the lesson. The level of student ability and need varied from class group to class group but in each case it was found that student learning was highly successful and that the students were at all times engaged and achieving. This is an excellent accomplishment and is highly commended.

 

Very definite outcomes were expected from the students and they were continually questioned and kept on task. Questions were used in the best possible way to elicit information from students on their existing knowledge and everyday life experiences of a topic. Students were eager in answering questions and demonstrated a high level of biological knowledge and competence. Students were affirmed generously at all times. In some cases, some students were more reticent than others. It is important to challenge every member of the class group by directing more questions individually from time to time. Students demonstrated genuine curiosity and were confident in asking questions and in moving around the laboratory to do tasks. Students also demonstrated pride in their work and in their accomplishments, for instance, in a project displayed or in a test result. Student copies showed that an impressive amount of work had been completed during the year. Copies were neat and detailed and were clearly monitored by the teachers with encouraging remarks made and sometimes stars were given for good work.

 

Practical skill attainment was observed to be very good among all students. During practical work, the students worked comfortably in their groups, communicating effectively. The investigative approach to practical work was successfully embraced. Teachers circulated at all times paying excellent attention to the needs of all students. For those students who exhibited particular learning needs the tasks were broken down into short achievable steps and learning was effectively promoted. Those students who progressed swiftly through the practical investigation settled down to write up the procedure autonomously or to begin the associated worksheet. In this way, students of all abilities experienced success and attainment.

 

 

Assessment

 

Commendable assessment practices were in use. Frequent end-of-topic tests were given providing many opportunities during the school year for students to revise and to receive feedback on their individual progress with the subject. Homework was regularly assigned, particularly for the Leaving Certificate biology groups, often utilising questions from past examination papers. Worksheets were the most frequently administered assessment tool for the LCA groups, consolidating work completed in new topics. In all cases, students completed their work well. It is recommended that assessment practices and criteria for the evaluation of student projects would be outlined in the subject plan for the TY biology module.

 

Generally, student work was very well monitored with a good level of written feedback given in copies and on tests. In order to ensure consistency, it is recommended that the science department would, as part of the planning process, agree a policy on assessment and homework for application with all class groups. 

 

Laboratory records are kept in folders in the laboratories. They were well written-up showing clear results and conclusions, with LCA records presented succinctly and Leaving Certificate records presented comprehensively. Laboratory records were regularly monitored by teachers. Some students had typed up their laboratory records and had produced computer-aided graphs of their results. In some cases credit is given for this work as part of the overall grade for the year. This is considered good practice and could be expanded upon for all class groups.

 

Formal school-based examinations are held for the TY and the fifth-year groups at Christmas and summer. Sixth-year students sit ‘mock’ examinations in February. Results from these examinations help to provide a basis for informed comment on student progress to parents, who receive school reports three times per year. A parent-teacher meeting is held annually for each year group.

 

 

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation of Biology:

 

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 Biology and with the principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.