Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Biology
Coláiste Chríost Rí
Roll number: 62560O
Date of inspection: 30 April 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and biology
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Chríost Rí. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science and Biology 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 all written preparation presented. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and the teachers of these subjects. 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.
Junior Certificate Science is part of the core curriculum in the school. Students have a weekly time allocation of one double lesson and two single lessons during each of the three years of studying Science. This is consistent with what is recommended by the curriculum guidelines. Classes are streamed, with students retaining in the main the same teacher for the duration of their junior science programme. In some instances, double lessons have been assigned across break time or split by another class. This practice should be avoided in timetable construction in the future.
On completion of Junior Certificate, students can enter the optional Transition Year (TY) programme. Students have an opportunity to study Biology, Physics and Chemistry during this year. Biology is allocated three lessons weekly, consisting of one double lesson and one single lesson, for half the school year. Consideration should be given to expanding the topic range so as to complement further studies the students may engage in during Leaving Certificate Biology.
At senior cycle the established Leaving Certificate programme and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) is offered in the school. Students in the school have a choice of three senior science subjects, Biology, Chemistry and Physics, which are timetabled as part of the main school timetable. In addition, student demand has instigated the provision of Agricultural Science as a further optional subject in the school. Students study this currently outside of their main timetabled classes. Management and staff could consider the inclusion of this subject in the main timetable in the future. Currently a high proportion of students are choosing to study at least one of these science subjects for their Leaving Certificate, which is very positive. All senior science subjects have an allocation of one double lesson and three single lessons in both year one and year two of Leaving Certificate, which is within curriculum guidelines.
Eight staff members currently involved in the delivery of Science and Biology in the school. One teacher also teaches the Agricultural Science course. The school has four laboratories. A new Biology laboratory has recently been opened in the school. This has a preparation and storage area attached. Organisation is at an advanced stage within this laboratory and should be completed shortly, which is to be commended. The school has two further, recently refurbished and well-equipped science laboratories. They are designated Physics and Chemistry laboratories. Each of these facilities has its own preparation/storage area attached. Maximum utilisation of these spaces would benefit from some re-organisation. The science team needs to develop these areas to ensure that they complement the laboratory areas attached. The disposal of materials not in use and the creation of storage strategies need to be a priority. The old Biology laboratory is the fourth laboratory in the school. It shares the preparation/storage room with the Chemistry laboratory. This space is in need of a significant amount of refurbishment. Very little equipment is currently stored in this space, which makes conduction of investigative work more difficult. Decisions in relation to this space and its usage need to be made by management in consultation with the science team. All laboratories are also designated for Junior Science. The science team should use junior science as a basis for the organisation and storage of materials and equipment in all the laboratories, which can be further developed into the senior science subjects. Currently all science classes cannot take place in the laboratory. Priority is given to senior science classes and to third year classes. In the main, at least double lessons occur in the laboratory. Informal collaboration of the science team results in a timetable for laboratory access for classes. It is important that a more formal approach be taken to ensure that students and classes receive an equitable distribution of laboratory time. This should be done at the start of the year and incorporated into the team’s planning. A budget is provided for each Leaving Certificate science subject, out of which junior Science is also funded.
There were some posters on the walls in the laboratories. The inclusion of some that are of student origin could be considered in the future. Some of the facilities had a computer and data projector as permanent resources, which is to be commended. The science facilities also have access to some portable equipment when required. In addition, other resources such as television and video, and overhead projectors are available for use in the teaching and learning, which is commended. The use of notice boards to display science-related material is also noted and is to be commended. These should be updated regularly to maintain students’ interest. As student classrooms are used for some science classes, some visual material should be considered in these spaces, which would enhance the learning for the students.
The school has a health and safety statement, which was drawn up in 2000 with the latest review in 2005. Management stated that the science staff members were involved in drawing up the safety statement. Safety equipment such as fire extinguishers, safety blankets and safety glasses were noted in the laboratory. Additional safety signage could also be considered in the laboratories. The guidelines on safety, Safety in School Science and Safety in the School Laboratory, published by the Department of Education and Science, should be consulted and can be downloaded from the Internet at http://www.psi-net.org/chemistry.
Students have had opportunities to experience science outside the laboratory through, for example, attendance at quizzes and conducting ecological fieldtrips, which enhance the learning in the classroom. Such activities are to be encouraged. In addition, the teachers have availed of opportunities for continuing professional development in Biology and Junior Science.
The school is engaged in school development planning with subject planning organised as part of the process to date. Management stated that the science team had five meetings in 2005/2006-school year with two meetings provided to the team currently in the 2006/2007 academic year. In addition, the Biology team has also had three formal meetings, which is to be commended. The minutes of each meeting are recorded, with one teacher acting as convenor and chair for the meetings. In addition, there is also informal communication between members of the science team on a frequent basis. The rotation of convenor among the team could be considered in the future. Different teachers take lead roles in the purchasing of materials and equipment for each of the three main laboratories. The possible unnecessary duplication of materials and equipment should be avoided through the organised planning of the different spaces by the whole science team. This will allow additional items to be considered and the science resource base to be increased in the school. The acquisition of a number of small trolleys which could be used to transport equipment and material safely from a laboratory to nearby classrooms could be considered by the team. This will allow some student practical activities to occur outside the laboratory.
Common plans for junior Science have been developed, which is to be commended. It is important that this common approach is fully implemented, with all the team involved in a review process as part of the science team’s planning process. This common approach may help in the development of a science assessment policy in the future. In addition, students’ achievement, homework, revision work, support and planning for mixed-ability classes, support and planning for students with special educational needs, in-career development, cross-curricular planning, and the integration of information and communication technology (ICT) could be considered in the future planning meetings of the team. All plans developed will require review and possible modifications to meet the needs of the students. Comprehensive planning documents for Leaving Certificate Biology were also presented, which is to be commended. Continued review and development of these plans by the team is also recommended. Websites such as www.bsstralee.ie and www.juniorscience.ie could be of assistance with further links to other relevant information sites. In addition, syllabuses and “Guidelines for Teachers” should be useful in this work.
A considerable amount of preparation went into the lessons observed. This included the preparation of handouts for class assignments and homework, PowerPoint presentation to aid student learning and visualisation of a topic, models to illustrate a specific process to help student understanding and organised board work which aided students in their note taking. The team could consider sharing resources that were prepared individually and found to be effective in the teaching of certain topics. This would be very good practice.
Magnetism, photosynthesis, air and gases, acids and bases, energy, enzymes and germination were the topics being studied in the lessons observed. The majority of classes observed were delivering new material, with a number mainly concerned with the revision of specific topics. Most lessons started with some form of recall of previous learning. This was achieved through questioning to named students. Further questioning was observed throughout most of the lessons. Recall type questions were the main method being used, with some probing and higher order questions used on occasion. The use of various types of questioning is encouraged during a lesson, with all students engaged at some point in this activity. In addition students should be encouraged to close all books and notes before questioning to ensure student learning is being ascertained.
In the main, lessons had structure and were of an appropriate pace to facilitate students’ learning. Good linkages were established with previous work, which aided student learning and is good practice. In the lessons where the objectives of the lesson were outlined to the students it helped focus their learning. This was a good approach and served to help the teacher evaluate the students learning outcomes for the lesson and should be considered for all lesson types. Reinforcement of the learning was achieved mainly through the use of various types of handouts, well-constructed board work, models, computers, reading of textbooks, demonstrations and student-based investigations. These all aided the students to visualise the material being studied. Significant time has been spent in the development of the various resources used in the lessons observed, which is to be commended. Sharing of all this material is to be encouraged among the team. An integrated approach was taken to the use of ICT in the lessons observed. It was used in the main in conjunction with other methodologies, which is good practice. Continued development of this resource is to be encouraged. However, when there was over use any one methodology in a lesson its effectiveness was reduced with effected student engagement in their learning, and should be avoided. Recording by students of work completed in class was a factor of most lessons. Where handouts and work sheets form the basis of this information, strategies need to be adopted to ensure the retention of this material by the students for use in their learning.
Discipline was sensitively maintained, with effective classroom management also evident. The teachers circulating the room regularly during the lesson asking questions or observing student work being completed aided this. This also aided teacher-student rapport during the lessons. In the main, lesson content and approaches to the delivery of material were appropriate to the streamed nature of the classes. However, all classes contained a range of student abilities. When differentiation was observed, it aided student learning and it would be important that this and other methodologies are used to help all students’ learning. The team members, as part of their planning, should discuss approaches and strategies that will aid the teaching and learning processes. In addition, approaches that are present in the Junior Certificate School Programme model would be worth exploring for some of the class groupings currently in the school.
Some lessons observed were theory based. The use of demonstration, ICT, handouts and worksheets helped in the delivery of the theory. They also served to break up the material for the students, which helped their learning and understanding of the topic. The material on display in the laboratory should also aid the students’ study and should be changed regularly to reflect this. In addition, more use could be made of the students’ classroom environment to display material that would be relevant and aid their learning. Some of these could be of student origin and, like the laboratory, should change to reflect current learning.
Student practical activities were observed in some of the lessons. An investigative approach was adopted in some lessons, with appropriate guidance and direction given by the teacher, which is to be commended. Students demonstrated a good level of skill when carrying out their various tasks, and competency when reporting on their completed work. Observation of student practical laboratory notebooks provided evidence of further practical work completed by the students. Various different types of student laboratory notebooks are currently being used. The team could discuss the merits of each and decide on a method that all students could adopt in the future. In addition, monitoring of students’ practical notebooks is encouraged and could be incorporated into the scheme for assessment.
Homework assigned was designed to assist the students in learning and retaining the topic, which is good practice. Reference to textbooks was only used to supplement and reinforce the learning and teaching which had already been completed during the lesson, which is to be commended.
The school has a policy on assessment. Formal school examinations occur at Christmas and summer, with state examination classes also sitting pre-examinations in the spring of their examination year. The teachers currently correct pre-examination scripts. Formal reports are sent to parents at mid-term and following Christmas, summer and pre-examinations. In addition to reports, parent-teacher meetings are held for all classes annually.
The development of a common assessment plan could be considered. As already stated, consideration should also be given to awarding all students marks for their practical copies as part of their overall grade in the subject. This could have the effect of providing the students with further motivation for engagement with the practical elements of the course.
Informal assessment of students’ learning takes place daily. This is achieved through homework and oral questioning at the start of and during the lessons. This was observed in the lessons viewed. Continuous assessment also occurs, with class tests administered by the teachers on completion of a unit of work or a topic. The teachers retain records of all tests completed.
Details of Assessment for Learning (AfL) methodologies, to further enhance the impact of formative assessment on students’ learning, are available on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) website www.ncca.ie.
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:
· The planning work completed to date is to be commended. The team should develop a structured approach to future planning, which will look at, for example, areas of assessment, homework, approaches to mixed-ability groups, use of different methodologies and monitoring of practical notebooks. In addition the topics in the current TY Biology programme should be reviewed and other areas of study included that will complement and support the two year Leaving Certificate syllabus that the students will study on completion of TY.
Post-evaluation meeting was held with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.