An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

 

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of Science

REPORT

 

 

Meanscoil Phádraig Naofa

Castleisland, County Kerry

Roll number: 61250R

 

Date of inspection: 30 January 2007

Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007

 

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 Science

 

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Méanscoil Phádraig Naofa. 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 deputy principal and subject teachers.  The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

Junior Certificate Science is a core subject and all senior students are encouraged to take at least one science subject at senior cycle. Due to lack of suitable laboratory facilities, the school was unable to offer the revised science syllabus until September 2006. Therefore the present second-year and third-year students are studying the 1989 syllabus, while the revised syllabus has been implemented with the first-year cohort. Currently Agricultural Science and Physics are timetabled in both fifth year and sixth year.

 

Significantly, the science laboratory and the preparation area and store have been recently refurbished, thus facilitating the implementation of the revised syllabus. Management and staff are commended on the work involved in this renovation. The laboratory is attractive and provides a stimulating learning environment, which is enhanced by the display of a variety of educational posters. The good practice of affirming students’ work by exhibiting examples of this in the laboratory is noted. Improvement in resource levels is ongoing, which on completion will considerably support teaching and learning. There is a good level of safety equipment such as fire extinguishers, safety blankets etc., in the laboratory. Laboratory safety rules are displayed. It is understood that the science department plans to store the chemicals according to best safety practice and Department of Education and Science guidelines. This plan should include the purchase of a flame-resistant press and the process should commence immediately. Copies of the published guidelines on safety – Safety in School Science and Safety in the School Laboratory published by the Department of Education and Science in 1996 and subsequently amended in 2001 are available.

 

The health and safety statement is currently being reviewed. In the context of the refurbished science facilities, it is understood that the science teachers will be consulted as part of this process. This is commended.

 

All science classes in first year and at senior cycle are of mixed ability. While it is understood that all students are encouraged to study higher-level Science at Junior Certificate, it is recommended that management and staff continue to devise strategies which encourage the student cohort to participate at this level. Classes retain the same teacher throughout junior cycle and again in senior cycle. This is praiseworthy as it promotes continuity of learning. While the time allocation for the senior cycle sciences is within syllabus guidelines, it is slightly below that recommended for Junior Certificate Science. Concurrent timetabling of science classes should be avoided as far as possible in order to maximise access to the laboratory. While acknowledging the complexities of timetabling, it is recommended that these matters be taken into consideration in future timetabling. During the feedback process the inspector indicated that it is stated in Safety in School Science that non-science subjects should not be taught in a laboratory, and that therefore this practice should be avoided. Management said that this was a temporary arrangement which would be rectified once the new classroom was in use.

 

Students entering fifth year are supported in making appropriate subject choices. Initially students are offered an open choice. These choices are then used to create a “best-fit” model for the Leaving Certificate subjects. Students avail of the support and advice of the deputy principal before choosing their subjects. It is recommended that an information night be provided for the parents of third-year students, in order that they may be informed of the subject options available and the future implications of subject choice in senior cycle.

 

Budgeting from a whole-school perspective is supportive of the department, there being an annual budget for the replenishment and repair of laboratory resources. An overhead projector and TV/DVD is available in the school. It is significant that broadband has already been installed in the school and the purchase of information and communication technology (ICT) equipment for the laboratory is being investigated, both of which will support teaching and learning.

 

The small size of the teaching team in the school facilitates good communication between teachers of students who require learning support and subject teachers. While support is generally provided in English and Mathematics, it is noteworthy that one science teacher also provides extra help in Science.

 

Management encourages teachers to avail of all continuing professional development (CPD) training being offered. The teachers have attended in-career development in the sciences, and in one instance have participated in other courses, such as data logging. This is commended. Membership of the Kerry branch of the Science Teachers Association of Ireland has been availed of by one of the teachers already and is encouraged as an additional support in this time of considerable syllabus and methodological change. One of the teachers is a member of the Irish Science Teachers’ Association and in this way keeps informed of issues concerning science education. This is laudable.

 

A good level of provision is made for co-curricular and extracurricular science activities including fieldtrips, quizzes etc. The practice of organising an ecology fieldtrip with geography colleagues is commended as it helps reinforce cross-curricular links. During science week, a competition is organised in which second-year and third-year students are encouraged to submit scientific articles. Those involved are to be praised for their commitment to facilitating such  educational and motivating activities.

 

 

Planning and preparation

 

It is evident that the science teachers in Méanscoil Phádraig Naofa work well together, demonstrate commitment, and have engaged in the process of collaborative planning for the revised syllabus. This good practice helps establish a common purpose and direction for the subject and facilitates the sharing of expertise and resources. The science department, which consists of two teachers is well co-ordinated and meets formally approximately four times a year. This is excellent. The minutes of recent scheduled meetings, and ongoing discussions informally show that considerable work has been done on subject development. Issues such as the refurbishment of the laboratory and the implementation of the revised syllabus for Science have dominated planning to date. Planning has also included the organisation of the scheme of work for each year group for the revised syllabus. This plan also refers to health and safety issues and students with special needs. It is recommended that over time this plan could be further developed to include timeframes, the resources available for the learning and teaching of each topic and optional assessment methods. The subject syllabuses and Guidelines for Teachers should provide the basis for such detailed planning. It is also recommended that this plan be reviewed on an annual basis and that necessary changes are applied to meet the needs of the students.

 

Evidence of individual teacher planning and preparation seen was most satisfactory. Teachers had compiled folders of resources, including outline schemes of work for each year group. Individual planning for teaching informed the classroom activity observed. Preparation was evidenced in the organisation of equipment and material resources that ensured the success of particular lessons.

 

 

Teaching and learning

 

A fine standard of teaching and learning was apparent in the lessons observed. At the outset of lessons seen, it was particularly noticeable how easily the students settled down to work. Lessons began very smoothly, a credit to both teachers and students. Lessons were structured, content was communicated clearly and diverse teaching styles were employed. The material being covered was communicated through the use of a variety of strategies including students’ practical work, teacher demonstration, questioning, students’ written work and explanation.

 

The warm positive atmosphere of mutual trust, respect and co-operation in evidence in each of the classes visited is commended. Students participated in the learning process and generally appeared motivated in this relaxed and pleasant environment, in which discipline was well maintained.

 

Good use was made of the board to outline the main learning points of lessons and to illustrate certain aspects of the topic in hand. Continuity with previous lessons was achieved through questioning at the outset or correction of homework. Props, including Crooke’s radiometer, lasers and electric bands, were every effectively employed to demonstrate energy changes. Students’ demonstration of specific concepts is commended.

 

The textbook was effective in providing visual images and students were encouraged to highlight the main points. In one instance the reading of textbook extracts by students was a feature of lesson development. This worked satisfactorily as it was done with varied readers, and was enhanced by the development of key terms on the board on completion of the reading. The display of such terms on the board as they arise in the reading would be more effective, as sometimes it can be hard for everyone to hear student readers in quite large rooms and such a visual reinforcement of the verbal message can be a useful support to learning through extract reading. Consideration should be given to the reading of textbook extracts as a means of review following classroom discussion rather than as a means of developing lesson content, as other methodologies can be more successful in actively involving students in the learning process.

 

There was some evidence of making the subject tangible by linking it to science in everyday life. This is good practice and should be employed as much as possible, thus anchoring students’ learning in their previous experiences and harnessing their interest.

 

Question-and-answer sessions were used effectively to engage the students and to assess and consolidate students’ learning and comprehension. This approach was also successfully used to draw on students’ previous knowledge of a topic, and in some instances to aid the introduction and subsequent broadening of that topic. This is commended. A combination of open and more focused questions was used. Generally students were addressed by their first name and great efforts were made to draw the optimum number of students into participation during the lessons through such questioning. This is a good approach and should be adopted as much as possible. Students received individual attention and support from their teachers and their contributions to the lessons were encouraged and continually affirmed throughout the learning process. There was good evidence of learning as students were generally confident and capable of answering questions put to them during the lessons.

 

During practical work all students were actively engaged and applied themselves to the task at hand. Students worked in pairs or groups of three. The teacher circled the laboratory and provided individual attention and support to the students where necessary. This is commended. Due regard was given to safety procedures. The practice of whole-class step-by-step teacher direction of practical work is not recommended. Students should be encouraged to proceed through the practical activities at their own pace once clear directions have been issued prior to commencement. There was some evidence of the employment of the investigative approach to practical work. This is commended as it provides for students’ motivation and enthusiasm. It is recommended this approach to practical work be adopted to a greater extent as it is an underlying principle of the junior science syllabus, and is best practice in the teaching of the subject. A plenary session was employed to consolidate students’ learning on completion of the experimental work. This is good practice.

 

Overall, lessons proceeded at a smart pace, which resulted in a realistic amount of work being completed in the allocated time. It is recommended, however, that less class time be devoted to the writing up of practical work that could be completed for homework, and that the time is used alternatively to cover related theory.

 

 

Assessment

 

Whole-school formal assessment is facilitated through examinations at October mid-term, Christmas, and summer. State examination classes have pre-examinations in the spring. Students are assessed in lessons through oral questioning and class-based tests. In all lessons observed appropriate homework was assigned, which was seen to expand on and enhance the work carried out in class. Appropriately, records are kept of students’ progress. There are good structures in place to support home-school communication. Students’ progress is conveyed via parent-teacher meetings and reports that are sent home. Parents can also meet with school staff by appointment.

 

Teachers assess students’ progress in practical work mainly through oral feedback during practical activities, and in some instances through monitoring and annotation of laboratory copybooks in which students write up their practical work. Samples of students’ work were viewed during the inspection. The work viewed included students’ laboratory and notes/homework copybooks. In many cases, regular correction and annotation of students’ homework was noted. Regular correction and feedback to students on their work is good practice. In developing this approach it is recommended that increased use be made of comment-based feedback during correction of students’ work. It is commendable that students receive credit towards the end-of-term examinations in the form of a percentage mark for their practical books in Physics and Agricultural Science. This provides motivation for engagement by all students with the practical element of the course. It is understood that teachers are planning to employ this modus operandi with the revised science syllabus, as it reflects the assessment objectives of the syllabus, and an aggregate mark that includes various components of the examination provides a more accurate indicator of the student’s ability in the subject.

 

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

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 deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.