An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physics and Science
St Conleth’s College
Clyde Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4
Roll number: 60590N
Date of inspection: 2 and 3 December 2008
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN PHYSICS AND SCIENCE
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Conleth’s College, Ballsbridge. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Physics and Science and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of these subjects 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 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.
Science is a core subject at St Conleth’s College. Classes are of mixed ability with two class groups in each year of junior cycle. Classes generally retain the same science teacher throughout junior or senior cycle.
A half-yearly module in Science forms part of the compulsory Transition Year (TY) programme in the college. TY classes are allocated one double period each week. The course is divided between project work and subject sampling for Leaving Certificate. Information and communications technology (ICT) is integrated into the curriculum with students maintaining an electronic portfolio of their work. This is highly commended. In addition, students visit museums and galleries with an electronic record of these visits maintained by students.
There is very good provision of science subjects for Leaving Certificate with Physics, Chemistry and Biology offered to students. Deployment of teachers is very good. Subject choice is very well supported by the college. Each student is given the opportunity to choose one, two or all three senior science subjects since each of Physics, Chemistry and Biology are offered in separate bands. It is encouraging that the uptake of Physics at senior cycle is good.
Time allocation to Science at junior cycle and Physics at senior cycle is in line with syllabus requirements. Science in first year, second year and third year is allocated one double and two single class periods. At senior cycle, Physics is allocated one double and three single class periods. There is good timetabled access to the laboratory for all double science lessons. Lessons are well distributed across the week to allow for regular contact with the subject.
The college has one science laboratory which is well utilised in the delivery of science education at junior and senior cycle. The college should consider the expansion of science facilities in light of the large cohort of students who choose science subjects and in light of the planned future developments. For example, a dedicated science room could be provided adjacent to the laboratory. It is praiseworthy that the school has addressed key recommendations from the 2003 subject inspection report in Science regarding upgrading laboratory provision. Renovations included extending the laboratory, adding a preparation room and chemical store, and the provision of ICT equipment into the laboratory.
The science laboratory is equipped with a data-projector, a laptop computer and with wireless broadband. TY students utilise mini laptop computers. In addition, science teachers make use of the college’s general ICT facilities. Data logging equipment is also available. Continuous professional development (CPD) is well supported by school management with teachers receiving support in membership of a professional organisation and science teachers have attended available in-service in recent years.
The college’s health and safety statement was last reviewed in 2006 and teachers were consulted in this process. This is commended. It is praiseworthy that a science laboratory safety statement has been incorporated into the college’s health and safety statement in the current year. Laboratory rules, on display in laboratories, form part of science policy. To further strengthen safety provision in the laboratories, it is recommended that ventilation be provided in the chemical storage room, that chemicals are stored in accordance with best practice and Department guidelines, and that flame proof cabinets be provided.
A purchasing coordinator is nominated annually by the science department to streamline budget requests to senior management from individual teachers. It was evident in the course of the evaluation that sufficient quantities of equipment to enable a ‘hands-on’ approach to Science at junior and senior cycle were not available. Therefore, it is recommended that school management make adequate budgetary provision for Science to cover the ongoing purchase of consumables and necessary upgrading of facilities.
Student participation in extra-curricular and out-of-school activities includes participation in the BT Young Scientists Competition, visits to the Science Gallery, Dublin Zoo and the Natural History Museum and attendance at science lectures and talks both within and outside the college.
A coordinator for Science is now in place and this position will rotate on an annual basis. This is good practice, as it gives each member of the teaching team valuable organisational experience in a coordinating role. Duties undertaken include convening planning meetings, collating the science department plan and leading the science department forward. Science teachers meet formally at least four times throughout the year and there are ongoing informal meetings organised, as the need arises. Minutes of science department meetings provide evidence of the level of good planning and cooperation in place. For example, issues discussed include storage of chemicals, study skills, formative assessment, common testing, school policy review and resources.
The science plan outlines the aims and objectives for the development of the subject, lists resources available and includes assessment procedures. The plan for Physics is presented on a term basis with detailed criteria for assessment included. These plans should be expanded further to address broader aspects of the provision for Science and Physics in the college, such as monitoring of science uptake at senior cycle, sharing of best practice within the science department and analysis of examination results. An overarching plan for Science should include methodologies, cross-curricular planning, planning for students with special needs, provision for health and safety, science facilities and science provision for the future. The school should make reference to the website of the School Development Planning Initiative, www.sdpi.ie. The TY plan for Science is innovative and promotes the broad aims of TY science education. It is suggested that consideration be given to restructuring the programme to further develop all students’ research skills.
Good schemes of work were in place at junior and senior cycle. Teachers were very well prepared for the lessons observed with ICT and practical equipment ready and set up in advance and resources including worksheets and handouts had been pre-prepared.
Lessons were conducted in a motivational atmosphere, interest by students in the lesson material was high and this led to a very positive rapport and motivated student learning. The clarity of delivery of knowledge and the effective way in which student learning was progressed was noteworthy and is commended. Lesson learning objectives should be shared with students at the outset of lessons and it is recommended that this be applied to all lessons so that a common short-term goal is set and achieved.
Many lessons were of a revision nature, appropriate to the time of the evaluation, as students prepared for the imminent college Christmas examinations. It is particularly important that all revision lessons are structured and planned carefully to ensure consolidation of student learning. In one science lesson visited, revision topics included the eye and Archimedes principle. Students received individual support as they worked on assignments with clarifications sought through question and answer sessions.
Teachers in most cases varied their methodologies with appropriate use of ICT, however, the use of ICT should be expanded. Appropriate worksheets were distributed in some lessons visited. Good use was made of the board in some lessons to focus students’ attention on key words and as an aid to summarise key ideas throughout lessons. It is recommended that this practice be extended to all lessons including those focused on revision.
Student practical work was pre-planned and well organised. This resulted in very successful learning outcomes. Student safety was paramount with teachers requiring students to wear white coats and safety glasses as appropriate, and reminded students to store school bags away safely. In one lesson, students were investigating the level of carbon dioxide in inhaled air compared to exhaled air. An initial demonstration adequately prepared students for the task while key words on the board highlighted key ideas. Probing questions supported students to learn by discovery. ICT was used appropriately and effectively to link students experience in Science to everyday applications. This combination and variation of methodologies is highly commended. In another lesson, students learned about magnetism. Students were active in learning and were consistently directed towards an investigative and discovery-led approach to learning. ICT animation was used as an effective methodology for discovery. This is commended.
Revision formed the focus for the physics lessons visited. In one lesson, a past examination paper was projected on the board to focus students’ attention. Probing questions followed. Clear explanations of the concepts supported student learning and helped to ensure successful learning outcomes. Students showed very good problem-solving skills and applied themselves well, especially when concepts were presented visually by drawing clear diagrams. A discussion of the marking scheme for the examination enabled students to focus on key concepts, errors and possible precautions in carrying out investigations. In another lesson, students were given well-informed examination advice which supported them in preparation for the forthcoming examinations. This is commended.
Student participation was good in all lessons evaluated. Questioning was used expertly as an effective methodology in teaching this material. Questions from students were answered expertly and lively discussions sometimes followed. Students were very confident at answering questions on their work.
The level of student achievement in Science and Physics is high with the vast majority of students achieving a higher level grade in Science and Physics in recent years. Almost all students choose Science at higher level. However, it is important that students are supported to choose an appropriate level and that students achieve to the best of their abilities at that level.
Students sit three formal examinations throughout the year. Common testing is now the norm in Science for all junior cycle classes. ‘Mock’ examinations take place in the spring for third and sixth year students. These examinations are generally set and corrected externally.
Parents maintain regular contact by attendance at the annual parent-teacher meetings and through the student journal. Reports are sent to parents on three occasions throughout the year following the formal examinations.
Records of practical work were maintained by students. However, the quality of much of this work requires significant improvement. This requires constant monitoring and attention with annotated feedback to students on errors and omissions. The allocation of a portion of the marks in college examinations to the accurate completion of student practical books is good practice and should be extended across the science department. The school has a good homework and assessment policy in place. Students were set revision assignments at the conclusion of lessons in preparation for the college Christmas examinations.
Good support procedures are in place for students with additional needs. Some students have been provided with resource hours and some students have access to assistive technology.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Science is a core subject at junior cycle and in TY. Physics, Chemistry and Biology are offered in senior cycle.
· It is commendable that the school has addressed some key recommendations from the 2003 inspection report in Science regarding upgrading laboratory
· CPD is well supported by school management.
· Good schemes of work were in place at junior and senior cycle.
· Minutes of science department meetings provide evidence of the good level of planning and cooperation in place.
· Lessons were conducted in a motivational atmosphere, interest by students in the lesson material was high and this led to a very positive rapport and effective
· The clarity of delivery of knowledge and the effective way in which student learning was progressed was noteworthy and is commended.
· The level of student achievement in Science and Physics is high.
· Assessment procedures were good.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· School management should make provision for the further expansion and upgrading of science facilities.
· Safety provision in the laboratories should be addressed with ventilation provided in the chemical storage room, chemicals stored in accordance with best practice
and Department guidelines, and flame proof cabinets provided.
· Consideration should be given by school management to the adequate budgetary provision for Science.
· An overarching plan for Science and Physics should include methodologies, cross-curricular planning, planning for students with special needs, provision for health
and safety, science facilities and science provision for the future.
· Lesson learning objectives should be shared with students at the outset of lessons.
· Methodologies should be varied and include appropriate use of the board and the integration of ICT as appropriate into lessons.
· Measures should be put in place to significantly improve the quality of students’ practical records.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Physics and Science, together with the principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published May 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The school welcomes the many strengths identified in the evaluation report by the Inspectorate and in particular the motivational atmosphere in which lessons are conducted and the positive rapport and effective student learning in evidence. The teachers are also satisfied that the level of student achievement in both science and physics is deemed as high.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Since the report, the school has initiated the implementation of certain recommendations, including adhering to best practice in the storage of chemicals and looking at ways of improving ventilation in the chemical storage area. Increasing budgetary provision for science has also been discussed with management. The science teachers are currently looking at ways of standardising the quality and maintenance of students’ practical records.