An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science
Roll number: 70920O
Date of issue of report: 17 January 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Ghobnatan. 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 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.
Management is commended on its commitment to science education in Coláiste Ghobnatan. Science is a core subject in junior cycle and all students have the opportunity to study Agricultural Science, Biology, Chemistry and Physics for Leaving Certificate. The uptake of all science subjects for Leaving Certificate is good. The enhancement of students’ scientific knowledge, understanding and science process skills is facilitated further through the provision of Life Studies and Physical Science in Transition Year (TY).
The operation of a taster system in first year is good educational practice as it facilitates students in making appropriate subject choices for Junior Certificate. However, this has had implications for the time allocated for Science, which is slightly below that recommended in the syllabus. Management is advised to investigate strategies to address this issue. Timetabled provision for the Leaving Certificate sciences is in line with syllabus requirements. Generally, there is an even distribution of lessons in the sciences across the week. Conversely, in one or two instances, classes have lessons on consecutive days, resulting in no class contact for four or five days. This is not good practice and should be rectified in future timetabling. While it is desirable for Science to have one double lesson per week, it is not desirable to timetable two double lessons, as this reduces class contact time across the week. A double lesson and the remainder timetabled as single lessons would be more beneficial.
Significantly, the blocks for the optional subjects at Leaving Certificate are devised based on students’ choice. Students are well supported when choosing subjects at both Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate. This support includes timetabled Guidance in TY, information nights for parents and for students, and information and advice from subject teachers. It is planned to timetable Guidance in second year and in third year from September 2008. This is commended.
Science classes, which are of mixed-ability, generally retain their teachers throughout junior cycle and again for Leaving Certificate. Management is encouraged to continue this good practice, as it provides for continuity of learning. It is understood that an induction process is provided for new teachers.
Science facilities consist of one laboratory and a demonstration room. However, the demonstration room is located at a considerable distance from the store and preparation area. Therefore, it is not deemed practicable to employ this for hands-on student activities. The degree in which the school is challenged in providing facilities for the teaching and learning of Science is shown by the fact that some lessons are taught in the kitchen. There are several problems in relation to the laboratory and preparation/storage area. Most of the taps on the students’ benches are broken, the fume cupboard is not working adequately and there is a water leak in one corner of the laboratory. There is no ventilation in the chemical store. While acknowledging that the school has applied for a new laboratory, these issues must be addressed in order to provide a safe working environment and to facilitate students’ mandatory practical work. It is suggested that management apply for a grant under the Summer Works Scheme.
A good level of resources, which are enhanced on a needs basis, supports the teaching and learning of the sciences. During the course of the evaluation, teachers expressed dissatisfaction at the lack of a simple Irish language science textbook. It was stated that this has resulted in difficulties for students when doing written homework, as currently they have to read the questions in English and write the answers in Irish.
Management is commended on the extent of the information and communication technology (ICT) provided to enhance teaching and learning. Each teacher has a laptop computer and a data projector has been mounted recently in the laboratory. It is understood that the data projector will be connected during the summer period. Data logging equipment, an overhead projector and a DVD/video are also available in the science department. The work of the teachers in providing a visually stimulating learning environment in the laboratory and in the kitchen, through the display of posters and scientific models commendably augments the learning environment.
There is a high level of safety equipment, such as gas and electrical isolation switches, fire extinguishers, safety glasses etc., in the laboratory. Considerable work must be undertaken in order to ensure that chemicals are stored according to Department of Education and Science guidelines and best safety practice. Information on safe storage classification can be obtained from the Chemistry Support Service website, www.slss.ie, and from the Junior Certificate Science Support Service website, www.juniorscience.ie. A flame-resistant press should also be purchased for the storage of flammable chemicals. The school has a health and safety statement, which was devised in 2003/04, and reviewed in 2006, in consultation with the science department. This is commended.
The science staff is cogniscent of students with special educational needs. Informal links exist between the science department and the school’s learning-support team. Key scientific terms have been compiled for use by the learning-support department. This is commended. Further support in this area may be accessed from the Special Education Support Service, at www.sess.ie.
Teachers’ professional development is supported by the school. Since the revision of the science syllabuses, all teachers have attended seminars and workshops provided by the relevant support services. Whole-staff development workshops have also taken place on ICT and student care among other topics. Extracurricular and co-curricular activities enhance students’ experiences of the sciences to a significant degree. Examples include participation in the Young Scientist and Technology Competition, ecology fieldtrips and industrial visits. The science teachers are commended on the commitment of time and energy, which they bring to these activities.
Coláiste Ghobnatan has a good resource in its science personnel. A high standard of planning contributed to the good level of teaching and learning observed in individual lessons. The ready availability of plants and equipment provided for well-organised student practical work and teacher demonstration. Worksheets and examination questions supported students’ learning. In one instance, a term-by-term programme of work assists the effective organisation and implementation of the science syllabus. There was evidence of compiled folders of resources, including worksheets and acetates, to support the learning and teaching process. This is commended.
The small size of the science department in Coláiste Ghobnatan, comprising three teachers, facilitates a good level of informal communication on an ongoing basis. To supplement this interaction, formal meetings are held a number of times during the year, the focus of which is generally the level of facilities and resources. Consideration could be given to recording the outcomes of these meetings, each teacher performing this task in rotation. The science department folder contains the plan of work devised by the Junior Certificate Science Support Service (JCSSS). Currently, as individual teachers take all students for Science in any particular year group, a common programme of work is not utilised in the school. While acknowledging the current teaching arrangements, it is recommended that a common programme of work be devised in order to provide standardisation of students’ learning. The JCSSS plan and the syllabus guidelines, in conjunction with the termly plan that has been devised in one instance, could provide a basis for this work.
Written programmes of work for both Life Science and Physical Science were furnished during the course of the evaluation. It is good to note that, in keeping with TY philosophy, topics which are outside the Leaving Certificate syllabuses form the basis of these programmes and include out-of-school scientific activities. Topics such as astronomy, electronics and famous scientists form the nucleus of the physical science plan. The life science programme includes the study of health and ecology, and contextualises students’ learning by placing an emphasis on life in the country. The further development of students’ practical skills, including data logging and safety in the laboratory, comprises a significant element of students’ learning in the sciences. This is commended.
A good quality of teaching and learning was observed in science lessons in Coláiste Ghobnatan. The positive and relaxed atmosphere which pertained was conducive to students’ learning. Constructive student-teacher relationships facilitated students’ engagement in the learning process. Their contributions were encouraged and affirmed, and where necessary the teachers supported students in the development of their answers. This is commended.
Lessons were well structured, the pace was appropriate in almost all instances, and the content was appropriate to the syllabus. Learning objectives were outlined, thus setting the context for the lesson and facilitating students’ motivation. All lessons were through Irish, English only being utilised when students read from the textbook.
A variety of methodologies were effectively employed. These included students’ practical work, teacher demonstration, and written and oral questioning. At the outset of some lessons, questioning was effectively employed to ascertain students’ learning, thus providing appropriate linkage with the previous lessons. Open and closed questions were also used successfully to develop lesson content and provided for ongoing students’ participation. Clear explanations facilitated students’ learning. Good use of the board assisted in reinforcing the salient points in the lessons. In some instances, the board was effectively employed to visually illustrate difficult concepts.
In one instance, the lesson was structured as a series of short activities, including questioning, students reading aloud from the textbook, written work and teacher demonstration. This had the effect of ensuring students’ ongoing active participation throughout and proved a good motivational device. There were some very nice examples of linking the lesson content to the everyday life experiences of the students, thus making the subject tangible and relevant.
It was clear from both the students’ practical copybooks, and from the capable and confident manner in which students conducted their hands-on practical work, that experimental activities form a significant component of students’ experiences in Science. Students worked in pairs in the well-organised practical lesson. In line with syllabus guidelines, an investigative approach was utilised to develop students’ understanding of refraction. This is excellent practice. The employment of a plenary session on completion of the investigation is commended as it allowed for consolidation of students’ learning. Consideration should be given to writing the reports for Coursework A in a similar format to that employed for Coursework B, as it would help develop students’ skills in report writing, and prepare for the Assessment B component of the Junior Certificate.
Appropriate emphasis was placed on the Junior Certificate examination, students being provided with the opportunity to work individually on state examination questions during a revision lesson. These questions also served to assess and reinforce learning. Other revision strategies could also be employed. For example, groups of students could discuss the examination questions in a co-operative manner in advance of writing the answers, thus promoting students’ interaction and enabling them to develop their communication skills in Science. Alternatively, students could assess their own, and one another’s work. This latter strategy has the benefit of assisting in the development of the capacity for self-assessment, so that students’ can become independent learners.
Students were enthusiastic and motivated in their work, and demonstrated good levels of knowledge and understanding in the lessons observed. Evidence for this was provided by interaction between the inspector and students, observation of students’ responses and questions, and examination of samples of students’ work.
Assessment in Coláiste Ghobnatan follows normal lines, with every class group having formal examinations at Christmas, pre-examinations for the state examination classes in the spring, and summer examinations for the remaining students. Regular assessment of students’ progress is ascertained via questioning in class and topic tests. This is commended.
All students have laboratory notebooks/workbooks in which they record their investigative work. The practice of monitoring and annotation, as was observed in some cases, is commended. These practical books are of a fine standard. It is recommended that the inclusion of practical work in the scheme of continuous assessment, which is employed in some instances, should be expanded, as it provides motivation for engagement by all students with the practical element of the course and ensures regular monitoring of student laboratory notebooks. Such practice reflects the assessment objectives of the Junior Certificate syllabus.
Written and learning homework was set in the lessons observed, the aim of which was to consolidate students’ learning. Students’ written work is monitored by the teachers, and many copybooks contain teacher comments. This is good practice, as it provides an opportunity for students develop their written skills, along with reinforcing understanding.
Results are systematically recorded by the teachers and communicated to parents twice yearly in school reports. Parents may also avail of the opportunity afforded by the annual parent-teacher meetings to consult with staff. Contact is also maintained via the students’ journals. Teacher records of student achievement and progress, as well as attendance, were evidenced during the evaluation period. This is commended.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Whole-school support for the provision of the sciences is good, as evidenced by the provision of Science as a core subject in junior cycle, and Agricultural Science, Biology Chemistry and Physics are offered for Leaving Certificate.
· Ongoing informal collaboration, supplemented by a number of formal meetings has enabled effective planning for resources and the compilation of a science department folder.
· Planning for lessons was good and contributed to the high quality of teaching and learning that was observed.
· In all lessons, an excellent rapport existed between students and teachers. A good learning atmosphere existed, and students’ enthusiastic attitudes enable them to take full advantage of the good teaching they receive.
· The excellent practice of employing an investigative approach to practical work was observed.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Issues concerning laboratory facilities and ventilation must be addressed in order to provide a safe working environment and to facilitate students’ mandatory practical work.
· Considerable work must be undertaken in order to ensure that chemicals are stored according to Department of Education and Science guidelines and best safety practice. A flame-resistant press should be purchased.
· A common programme of work should be devised in order to provide standardisation of students’ learning in each year group.
· The inclusion of practical work in the scheme of continuous assessment, which is employed in some instances, should be expanded. Such practice reflects the assessment objectives of the Junior Certificate syllabus
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.