An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Chemistry
ColŠiste an Spioraid Naoimh
Roll number: 62580U
Date of inspection: 18 September 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Chemistry
This report has been written following a subject inspection in ColŠiste an Spioraid Naoimh, Cork. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Chemistry and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí 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 on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Whole-school support for the sciences in the school is very good. Appropriate provision is made for Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Science in all relevant curricular programmes. Timetabling is very good across almost all years and programmes. While acknowledging the complexities of timetabling, it is advised that in future timetabling the school endeavour to ensure that all lessons have an even spread across the week. School management facilitates access for all students to the sciences. The schoolís commitment to the development of scientific literacy is evident as Science is a core subject in junior cycle and Biology, Physics and Chemistry are offered as optional subjects in Transition Year (TY) and for Leaving Certificate. The uptake of the senior sciences is very good.
The development of a written school policy on allocation of choice subjects is praiseworthy. Subject option bands are generated around studentsí choices in both junior and senior cycles. Arrangements for the provision of information on optional subjects are thorough and transparent and parents are informed of the implications of subject choice before decisions are made. This is facilitated in part by the timetabling of a module of Guidance in third year. This is commended. However, Leaving Certificate subjects are chosen before entering TY. This is not in keeping with the TY philosophy of a broad-based educational experience and does not allow students an extra year of experience and maturity before making their choices. The policy of the school, as stated in the PowerPoint documentation issued to parents of incoming TY students, is that students may change subjects in TY at the end of September and in mid-January, in addition to change being facilitated in September of fifth year. It was reported that in practice students are permitted to change subjects at almost any time in TY. Not withstanding this, it is recommended that the school review the practice of choosing subjects in advance of TY.
The deployment of teachers is in line with their qualifications, skills, knowledge and interests. Teachers have the opportunity to teach a range of levels and programmes. This is very good practice as it broadens the expertise available in the school. Commendably, teachers are facilitated to attend continuing professional development (CPD) activities. Teachers share resources on an ad hoc basis. This sharing could be enhanced by the formal sharing of resources, expertise and successful teaching and learning methodologies at science-department meetings. It is noteworthy that the management supports the teachersí membership of the Irish Science Teachersí Association. During the course of the evaluation concern was expressed by the teachers about the large numbers of students in science classes, particularly in view of the mandatory practical activities undertaken by students. Management and staff should examine this concern.
The school has three well-resourced laboratories, each with a preparation and storage area attached. The preparation/storage areas are not adequately ventilated. It is recommended that the management address this issue. All laboratories have internet access, computers and ceiling-mounted data projectors. This level of resources is commended as it supports the teaching and learning of the sciences. There is a high level of safety equipment such as fire extinguishers, safety blankets, and safety glasses in the laboratories. Work has begun on the classification of chemicals according to their safe storage groups. Building on this good work, it is recommended that the chemicals be colour coded and that a flame resistant press be used for safe storage of flammable chemicals. A safety statement, referring to all specialist rooms, has been compiled and it was reviewed in May 2007. It includes an identification of hazards, level of risk and associated control measures. It is recommended that this statement be customised to reflect all aspects of the school. In addition copies of 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 should be retained in each laboratory.
There are satisfactory links with the special educational needs department. Appropriate information with regard to specific studentsí needs is exchanged and in some instances advice is given on effective teaching and learning methodologies. It is recommended that these links be enhanced. Science teachers should be involved in the decision-making process on the rare occasion that students are withdrawn from studying Science. It is further recommended that the special educational needs teachers have regular inputs on teaching and learning methodologies at subject department and whole-staff meetings.
Teachers are commended on their commitment to enhancing the learning experiences for students in the sciences. A high level of provision is made for co-curricular and extracurricular science activities including fieldtrips, industrial visits and participation in quizzes such as the Pfizer chemistry quiz and the EEE (Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, University College Cork) perpetual shield table quiz, and in competitions such as the Royal Society of Chemistry on-line Household Chemistry competition. The school has achieved considerable success in these quizzes and competitions and is the current holder of the EEE perpetual shield table quiz.
Senior management facilitates subject department planning. Different teachers co-ordinate each of the separate science subjects. This involves the organisation of meetings, taking the minutes and the management of the laboratories. It is recommended that the minutes of meetings be retained in a department folder for ease of reference. Consideration should be given to rotating the position of co-ordinator.
It is clear that the teachers co-operate well in their work. For example, they have begun to record the resources required for the Junior Certificate science investigations and their storage location. This commendable practice could be extended to the senior sciences. Further evidence of collaboration is illustrated by the shared filing cabinet of examination material and the recent commencement of organising folders of resources for each topic in Chemistry.
The subject plan identifies the knowledge, skills and competencies that the students should acquire over the duration of the course. In addition the topics to be covered are listed on a year-by-year basis. It is recommended that teachers build on this good practice and extend the plan to include for example, timeframes, effective teaching and learning methodologies and resources for specific topics as is observed in some instances in teachersí individual planning. In addition, it is recommended that the subject plan be updated to include the current TY programme of work. Individual teachersí programmes of work are on a term-by term basis.
Significantly, the current TY chemistry programme is in keeping with TY philosophy and provides students with the opportunity to study the chemistry of topics not on the other curricular programmes. In particular, its focus on the social and applied aspects of Chemistry is commended as it makes the subject relevant to students. In addition, the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) is integral in the teaching and learning of TY Chemistry, a practice that is praiseworthy.
The planning for the lessons observed was very good. This included the organisation of equipment and chemicals and the development of a PowerPoint presentation, all of which contributed to well-organised successful lessons.
Lessons were well structured and were characterised by smooth transitions from one stage to the next. In addition the content and pace were appropriate to the class groups and were consistent with the planned programmes of work. In all lessons the aims and objectives were shared with the students at the outset. It is recommended that differentiated learning outcomes could be outlined at this stage and these could be revisited during the recapitulation phase. There was good continuity with prior learning and lessons were developed building on studentsí prior knowledge and experience. This continuity was reinforced when students were informed of the subject matter of forthcoming lessons.
The utilisation of everyday substances in a comparative study of the concentration of Vitamin C increased studentsí interest and made the topic relevant. Active learning formed the kernel of each lesson observed. The methods used were effective in maximising learning and encouraging studentsí participation. In the theory lesson observed, teacher explanation and whole-class discussion was successfully interspersed with short practical activities performed by students, a practice that is commended. ICT and the blackboard were used effectively to enhance learning. The teachers demonstrated a high level of competence and skill in the subject area.
Questioning was effectively used to aid the introduction of and subsequent broadening of a topic and to evaluate studentsí learning. Chorus answering to questioning should be discouraged as its employment does not facilitate the teacher in ascertaining how well individual students understand the material.†
During the practical lessons, students worked in small groups and were confident and capable in setting up and completing the tasks. Due cognisance was given to safety. Plenary sessions were held on completion of the practical activities to consolidate studentsí learning. This is commended. The use of question and answer sessions and student discussion would further enhance the value of these sessions.
Classroom management was effective and discipline was sensitively maintained. A very good rapport was evident between students and teachers. Students responded positively to teacher instructions and studentsí participation in lesson activities was closely monitored. Their contributions were encouraged and affirmed. In one lesson, appropriate use of humour further enhanced the constructive learning environment observed in all lessons. Learning activities were well managed and there was an appropriate level of facilitation and intervention from the teachers as students performed tasks. This is praiseworthy. The laboratory was bright and stimulating. Teachers are encouraged to enhance the environment through display of studentsí work as the year progresses. This would also provide public affirmation of studentsí efforts.
The teachers have high expectations of the students commensurate with their abilities and learning styles. Students were well organised, purposeful in their work and collaborated well. They were motivated and in the main fully engaged by all classroom activities. It is recommended that strategies such as differentiation by task or co-operative learning be employed to provide for the engagement of those students who complete their tasks quickly for the duration of lessons. In the main, students demonstrated clear knowledge and understanding of topics under study and all had developed appropriate skills and competencies to complete their practical activities. This is commended.
Whole-school assessment policies follow regular lines in the subject inspected. All classes sit formal tests at Christmas. State examination classes then sit pre-examination papers in the spring, with all other classes having written examinations prior to the summer holidays. End-of-topic tests are set, where appropriate. It is understood that common tests are administered in the sciences where possible. This is commended as it ensures a consistency of approach and helps provide standardisation of studentsí learning across a year group. It is suggested that opportunities for other forms of assessment such as student self-assessment and peer-assessment be utilised as appropriate. It is noteworthy that an alternative mode of assessment in the form of a student portfolio is employed in TY. It was reported that on one occasion assessment of studentsí practical work was a component of the overall appraisal of studentsí progress. This is a practice that is encouraged as it rewards students for the work involved in developing practical skills and competencies.
Both written and learning homework is set regularly to reinforce studentsí in-class learning. From examination of studentsí copybooks the work given to the classes was found to be appropriate to ability levels. As a further means of assisting the greatest number of students towards the highest level of attainment of which they are capable, the strategies suggested in Assessment for Learning (AfL) could be investigated (www.ncca.ie).
All students have laboratory notebooks in which they record their investigative work. On examination of these notebooks it was found that all mandatory investigations to date were written up appropriately. There was some evidence of monitoring of the practical notebooks. Teachers are encouraged to build on this element of good practice. It is recommended that assessment of studentsí practical notebooks in Junior Certificate Science be a component of the end-of-term examinations. Such practice reflects the assessment objectives of the science syllabus and provides a more accurate indicator of a studentís ability in the subject.
Attendance rates and assessment results are recorded and are accessible to parents who receive written reports following the formal examinations. This good practice helps to build a profile of studentsí engagement, progress and achievement in the subject over a period of time. Parent-teacher meetings are held annually for each year group, except for TY students who exhibit their work to parents at a presentation night. In addition contact is maintained with parents by telephone and the student journal. Subject-specific statistical analysis of State examination results is carried out in the school. This is commended.
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 Chemistry and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, January 2009