An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood)
Cobh, County Cork
Roll number: 62180E
Date of inspection: 29 September 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood)
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Muire, Cóbh. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Construction Studies (CS) and Materials Technology (Wood) (MTW) and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of these 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 principal and subject teachers. The board of management 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.
Coláiste Muire provides a range of technology subjects in its curriculum. In addition to MTW and CS, the focus subjects of this inspection, Technical Graphics and Technical Drawing are offered in junior and senior cycle respectively. It is commended that students of the school are presented with the opportunity to explore the world of technology through these subjects.
There is an active subject department structure supporting subject planning in the school. Regular, formal subject department meetings have been held each term as part of the whole school planning programme over the past two years. MTW and CS are grouped with Technical Graphics, Technical Drawing, Home Economics and Art in these meetings. In addition, the teaching team of MTW and CS meets to plan common programmes of work, notably for first and second year MTW. One teacher acts as subject coordinator of MTW and CS. The management of the school is commended for the supports in place to facilitate collaborative planning in the MTW and CS subject department.
The management of Coláiste Muire supports the MTW and CS subject teaching team in availing of all opportunities to access continuing professional development (CPD) relating to their subject area. While the range of such opportunities in the past has been limited, members of the subject department have taken part in courses in the area of parametric computer aided design (CAD) and electronics. The introduction of new senior cycle syllabuses in Design and Communication Graphics (DCG) and the other technology subjects brings with it a greatly enhanced opportunity for CPD under the auspices of t4, www.t4.ie. The school and particularly the MTW and CS teaching team are encouraged to take full advantage of this opportunity.
MTW is allocated four class periods per week in each of the junior cycle years. Configured as one double and two single period lessons, the teaching time is distributed evenly across the week. CS is allocated five class periods per week in both years of the senior cycle. This time is configured as one double period and three single period lessons distributed across the week. It is commended that the teaching time allocated to MTW and CS, and its organisation, is sufficient to cover the respective syllabuses in full.
The single MTW and CS workshop in the school is remarkable for the care and attention to detail taken in its recent refurbishment. It is bright and welcoming and, when visited, was exceptionally neat and tidy. There is a dust extraction facility in the workshop which at the time of the visit was temporarily disconnected as the arrival of new woodworking machines was eagerly awaited. The school and the MTW and CS subject teaching team are commended for the provision and maintenance of the workshop to such a high standard. Due to the workshop being temporarily out of use for the teaching of practical lessons, the lessons visited covered theory, drawing and design. The new machinery arrived towards the end of the inspection day. One lesson visited in the course of the inspection was held in the Technical Drawing room. This room was also neat, tidy and welcoming and provided a stimulating, well-ordered learning environment.
The management of Coláiste Muire and the board of management are commended for the provision of an annual budget for recurring expenses within the MTW and CS subject department. This arrangement supports and encourages planning by the subject teaching team for the maintenance and improvement of the subject teaching facilities, in which the subject co-ordinator takes a lead role.
There is a whole-school health and safety statement which was reviewed in 2001. In addition there is an ongoing focus on health and safety in the workshop.
The school has an up-to-date computer room which, at the time of the inspection, was not being used by MTW or CS classes. While in the past CAD software has been installed on the computers in the computer room, this was currently not the case. It is urged that the parametric CAD software being supplied by the Department of Education and Science be installed in the computer room, if technically feasible, to encourage full use of this package by the students. The MTW and CS teaching team is urged to introduce all students of the subjects to the use of ICT and to request the use of the computer room to allow this to happen.
Commendably, student choice of optional subjects, including MTW and CS, is the basis on which subject option groups are determined. In order to support student choice in junior cycle, senior management, guidance and care staff visit each of the primary schools and meet parents of incoming students at an information night in the school. Following this the incoming students are given a free and open choice of subjects. The preferences expressed by the students then form the basis on which the junior cycle subject option groups for this student cohort are finalised. In senior cycle a similar process is followed. Individual students in third year and Transition Year are supported in making their choices by the guidance teacher. There is an information night for parents. Following this, students make an open choice and the subject option grouping for senior cycle is based on their expressed preferences. The school is commended for the openness and responsiveness to students of its subject choice procedures.
The MTW and CS teaching team is commended for the quality of its planning. In each of the lessons visited in the course of the inspection, there was clear evidence of detailed preparation and planning for the work in hand. In an MTW lesson in which students were being introduced to the design process, prepared worksheets were very effectively used to allow the students to make the best use of the time available. Meanwhile the teacher worked individually with students, affirming them in their design decisions and providing support and help where this was required. The emphasis placed on the design process in the teaching of MTW in the lessons visited is commended and it is urged that this be maintained and reinforced by the greater use of CAD.
It is commended that the subject teaching team plans programmes of work collaboratively and it is encouraged to continue with this and to give consideration to the most effective teaching methodologies and strategies to be adopted, particularly when delivering theory lessons. Exploration of a broader range of methodologies and teaching strategies may best be undertaken within the subject-department planning context. The planning was in all cases in line with curricular requirements.
The subject teaching team is commended for the care with which it anticipates the needs of students in the planning of design-project work. It is the stated aim of the subject teachers to ensure that each student experiences a sense of success and completion in each design project undertaken. Careful planning allows a student who may have difficulty to begin a design project earlier. Careful guidance is provided by the teacher to ensure that the work is within the student’s capability, including the drawing elements of the process. It is ensured that each student leaves with a completed project. The emphasis placed on the design process, in line with the aims of the syllabus, is commended.
It is commended that the MTW and CS teaching team has access to a data projector and use it to support topics such as the properties of wood and innovative design. The teaching team is encouraged to develop this further, particularly in the context of having a dedicated data projector and computer available for the technologies.
In light of the provision of CAD hardware and software in connection with the introduction of new senior-cycle syllabuses in the technologies, it is important that these are deployed effectively. While initially these resources are being supplied for the introduction of DCG, such resources will be required across the technology subjects. It is urged that the development of parametric CAD be viewed in the context of it forming a very important element in the teaching of MTW and CS as well as Technical Graphics and being central to the delivery of DCG. It is recommended that a classroom be identified for the teaching of the theory, drawing and CAD aspects of CS and MTW together with Technical Graphics and Technical Drawing. It is also urged that very careful consideration be given to all aspects of the deployment of CAD hardware and software for use in all the technologies. Planning for the increased use of ICT, particularly in the area of student design project work with the aid of parametric modelling CAD, is encouraged.
Good use of standard safety notices was observed in the workshop in the course of the inspection and the safety statement was displayed on the wall. Best practice was observed in the demarcating of a safe operational area around the machines and it is urged that its placing be reviewed in light of the installation of the new machines if this has not already been done. It is suggested that a simple notice be placed adjacent to the safe operational areas bringing the students’ attention to the rationale for demarcating them and the implications for student behaviour and movement within the workshop. It is recommended, if not already done, that notices listing the procedures for the safe use of each machine be displayed adjacent to each when the new machines have been installed. The provision of a dedicated area for students to leave their school bags on entering the workshop is commended as this does much to maintain safety within the work area by avoiding a possible cause of clutter.
In each of the lessons visited in the course of the inspection, the teaching methodology adopted was appropriate to the abilities, needs and interests of the students. The purpose of each lesson was clear from the outset. Lessons were well structured, coherently developed and delivered at a pace that suited the abilities of the students. In a third year MTW class the topic was wood chisels. Following a general introduction the students used their workbook to revise the terminology, construction and materials of wood chisels which they already knew from practical lessons. The textbook was used effectively for reference during this exercise. Questions arising from this revision, under the skilled guidance of the teacher, led the students through a full consideration of the form and functions of the chisel. Skilled questioning by the teacher led on to a lesson on plastics in a second period. The commendable use of skilled questioning was evident in each of the lessons visited.
It is suggested that, whenever possible, samples of materials being discussed in theory lessons should be available to be examined or passed around to the students. In one of the lessons visited, the students were intrigued to discover that their school jumpers contained acrylic fibres when plastics were being categorised. Intrigue led to amusement and renewed interest. It might be possible, in order to take advantage of such interest, to set students the task of collecting examples of different plastics in advance of the lesson. Groups of students might then be given the further task of researching the different types of plastic and presenting their discoveries to the whole class.
Continuity was maintained from previous lessons, often by reference to homework or by reference to previous work done during the introduction. In a CS lesson visited, an introduction to raft foundations made good use of a prepared handout. The introduction included revision of aspects of concrete use such as placing, compacting and curing. The students then proceeded to draw a vertical section through the foundation type. As the students progressed, the teacher placed the section on the whiteboard to assure them that their drawings were correct. The students remained focused on their task and the completion of the drawing provided a natural recapitulation of the detail discussed in the introduction. Further reinforcement was provided by the students’ notation of their drawings. The structure and coherence of the learning opportunity presented to the students is commended. In order to further enhance the learning experiences of the students the subject teaching team is encouraged to investigate the possibilities of including more student input in lessons. This input might involve students working in groups, perhaps to investigate a particular type of foundation noting its distinctive features, which a member of the group would then share with the whole class. This and other such approaches would have the advantage of involving students in a discovery of the topic being studied providing many more opportunities for making their own of the subject matter. The use of the internet as a research resource is encouraged as more ICT access becomes available.
The atmosphere in each of the lessons visited was at all times positive and relaxed while the students remained focused on their work. There was a discernible mutual respect between students and teacher. Discipline, although always present, was never forced but was willingly accepted and intrinsic to the students. The students worked happily, secure in their surroundings and affirmed and encouraged by their teachers.
In each of the lessons visited, students were engaged fully and when questioned showed an understanding and knowledge of the work being done consistent with their age and level. Students were able to communicate effectively in the subject and expressed satisfaction with the course being followed and their own experience of it. The students were learning effectively.
Formal examinations are held in Coláiste Muire at Christmas for all students and in summer for all except third-year and sixth-year students who undertake the State examinations. Pre examinations are held in February for third-year and sixth-year students. The results of school examinations are posted home. In addition to these examinations mid-term reports are compiled based on teachers’ assessments of the students’ progress and these are entered into the students’ journals.
In MTW and CS, it is the commendable practice to continuously assess students progress in the course of the year. Student design projects are assessed on completion. The averages of assessments are aggregated with the test results at Christmas and in summer. While students are made aware of the proportion of marks being assigned to continuous assessment, this is not fixed. The MTW and CS subject teaching team might consider the possible advantages of adopting a common approach to the weighting given to continuous assessment marks which, when students are given regular feedback, might bring more clarity to their understanding of how they are progressing and the effect their assessments are likely to have on their overall mark. This slightly increased formality is likely to lead to improved effort as students strive to improve their assessment grades.
The assessment modes in use in MTW and CS are consistent with the objectives of the relevant syllabuses. The approach taken to ensuring that student design projects are suited to the abilities of the individual students has the added advantage of ensuring that the assessment outcomes address the individual learner’s needs and this is commended.
The careful maintenance of student assessment records and their communication to students and to their parents by means of school reports, parent-teacher meetings and student journals is commended.
In each of the lessons visited there was discernible enthusiasm and curiosity among the students for MTW or CS. The practical and other work seen displayed a level of student skill and knowledge appropriate to age and ability.
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 Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood) and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The report was reviewed by the Board of Management at a meeting in March. The Board agreed the following response: The Board of Management is happy to accept the Inspection Report on Materials Technology Woodwork and Construction Studies and thanks the DES for the professionalism with which the inspection was carried out.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
The Report recommends identifying a room for Design and Communication Graphics. The Board already provides such a room, but it will need refurbishment to meet the new requirements. This will be done using the grant which the Department will provide for furniture. IT equipment required for this room will be purchased from the DES grant.