An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Biology
Graignamanagh, County Kilkenny
Roll number: 70590T
Date of inspection: 6 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Biology
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Duiske College. 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 the 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 the teacher, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teacher. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Duiske College is a small school and there is only one class group in each year. Science is a core subject on the curriculum for all junior cycle students. The subject is appropriately timetabled for four periods per week in each year including double periods. Biology is offered to all students in senior cycle within the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and is chosen by the majority of students allowing one class group to be consistently formed each year. Biology is appropriately timetabled for five class periods per week including one double period. Where students express the desire to study Chemistry the school provides the subject on the curriculum even with small numbers of students, and this is commendable. There is no other subject placed opposite Biology in the subject choices for LCVP and those students who do not choose Biology must instead study at these times. This arrangement should be reviewed by senior management and revised to ensure compliance with circular M29/95 in relation to time in school.
All lessons in the sciences are conducted within one very well-fitted and very well-resourced modern laboratory providing excellent access for students. The laboratory is used only by the science department. There are ample resources for students to conduct practical work in Science, Biology and Chemistry. An excellent level of organisation and orderliness was evident in the laboratory and the preparation and store room. Sets of equipment for key practicals and kit boxes have been prepared and these are readily accessible to students. Extra equipment for student practical work is laid out daily on a portable trolley.
The laboratory is enhanced with modern science charts, visual stimulus material for a variety of topics and a wide range of student drawings and projects, providing a highly stimulating learning environment for students. Audio-visual facilities and a computer with data projector are in everyday use to show the very good range of graphics, presentations and topic-related resources that have been prepared for the subjects. Broadband internet access is available and used in some lessons. The school’s computer room is adjacent to the laboratory and is sometimes used to allow students to work on their research projects. Data-logging equipment is available and used for some of the science investigations with plans to increase its use in Biology. The judicious use of computer technology to facilitate teaching and learning in the subjects is commended.
The storage of chemicals in the designated store room is in accordance with proper health and safety standards. All chemicals are dated and clearly labelled. Proper safety features, signage and practices are well established and constantly reinforced for students. A health and safety statement has been drawn up for the laboratory area and it is recommended that this be brought to the board of management for approval and then circulated to all staff.
Continuing professional development is supported by management and the science teacher has been facilitated in attending in-service in the revised syllabuses. This support is commended
Subject plans and a long-term scheme of work have been developed. These outline the content of the programme for each group and the teaching methods that will be used. Commendably, the plans also include details of the skills and attitudes students will develop during the course of their studies. However, the plans for Science should also include the learning outcomes that students will achieve in each year of the course in accordance with the syllabus. It was evident that the science department is self-evaluative and is constantly reviewing its practices to ensure the best for its students. Very good pace and progress is being achieved with the programme of work for each year with proper time planned for practical work, revision and assessments. It is recommended, therefore, that the timing of this work on a weekly basis be written into the documents so that any teacher can engage with the plans for any group.
Proper planning has allowed sufficient time for students to complete the necessary practical work for coursework A and B of the Junior Certificate science programme. Records of this work are carefully maintained by the teacher. It is commendable that the science department is planning to conduct a revision session of all student practicals for coursework A.
An excellent level of preparation was undertaken for each lesson observed. Strong attention to detail was evident throughout and all preparatory work is undertaken with obvious dedication both to the student and to the subjects. Visual presentations were carefully considered in order to match the purpose of the lesson with the needs of the group. Materials for practical work were ready from the start of each lesson and this led to a seamless flow from activity to activity. However, it is recommended that student worksheets be differentiated for students into higher level and ordinary level, particularly for the final term of the course, so that students can practise for their examination in the subject at their chosen level.
Many co-curricular activities take place. Competitions are promoted on the science notice board and students are encouraged to enter according to their talents. The school grounds and pond are both used to support learning in related topics, particularly to encourage students to be aware of the ecology and wildlife heritage of their own locality. The grounds have been planted with native Irish species and wild birds are encouraged.
Very good teaching methods were employed and lessons were student-centred with the teacher as facilitator. The purpose of each lesson was clearly explained and all learning was put into context for the student. Lessons often began by focusing the students on solving a particular problem and took an inquiry approach by encouraging students to conduct an investigation, to do some research or to make links with previous learning. A variety of learning experiences was integrated into each lesson and this was combined with the use of excellent questioning strategies.
Topics were presented in very interesting and stimulating ways for the student and made relevant to everyday life. Topics were often introduced and explained with the aid of stimulating visuals. For example, the skeleton, a X-ray film and a power point presentation were all used in a lesson on bones and this was followed with a student investigation using chicken bones. In all lessons a variety of resources were used to support learning and the text book was used only for reference purposes. In addition, clear and concise instruction and direction was given to students. A high level of attention to detail was evident, particularly during teacher instruction and in formative assessment and this attention to detail extended to the work observed in students’ copies.
An enthusiastic atmosphere was created in all lessons with the teacher encouraging and challenging students to think through the stages and purpose of their work. Students held their teacher in high esteem and interacted excellently. The teacher demonstrated an acute awareness of the needs and capabilities of each individual student while establishing a high level of expectation in terms of work, presentation and behaviour. The teacher circulated purposefully at all times while students were conducting independent work, keeping the pace of the lesson and formatively assessing the progress of each individual with the topic. This approach was seen to be very effective in supporting individual student learning.
Students are encouraged to ‘learn by doing’ and they are facilitated in conducting regular practical work as the basis for learning while also being encouraged to research topics for themselves and to conduct projects at times. This is highly commended. Practical science was evident throughout all lessons observed and students were encouraged to think scientifically. An investigative approach was taken to all practical work, where with careful guidance students were required to plan, design and conduct the investigation for themselves and to draw their own conclusions, which they did with ease, demonstrating a strong awareness of the scientific method and how to apply it. For example, students could identify the correct control and the variables in the planning stage of the investigation. Students were also clear as to the purpose of each activity and worked productively in their groups to achieve a proper outcome. They then settled, without prompting, to write up their laboratory reports. In these ways, students are taught to be autonomous in their own learning and it was obvious that this had enhanced the personal development of the students.
Students contributed good quality answers to questions indicating good understanding of the day’s topic and of previously studied topics. State Examination results for this school show a fairly good uptake of higher level in both subjects; overall students perform well at each level. Students presented as motivated and interested and showed a high level of satisfaction with the subject. The standard of learning as evidenced by student attitude, their practical skills, their ability to answer questions and the presentation of their written work is very high.
Students are affirmed in their work regularly and appropriately, both through verbal remarks by the teacher and through written comments on the work in their copies. In these ways students receive ongoing formative feedback on their individual progress. This is highly commended. Homework is generally allocated weekly for younger students and daily for senior students. Homework is given to consolidate work done in the lesson and varies in form to include worksheets, questions from the book, questions from past examination papers and writing up of laboratory notes. Students complete their homework to a high standard and some students make out their own notes on the day’s topic. Coursework A and B laboratory records and laboratory notebooks were comprehensively maintained and well-presented with clear conclusions made on each practical. Student copies and laboratory notebooks are rigorously monitored by the teacher and this is highly commended.
Class tests are frequently administered, usually at the end of each topic and records of the outcome of these tests are kept by the teacher in conjunction with records of attendance. Student progress is also monitored through Christmas, summer and mock examinations in the subjects. Parents receive school reports following each of these examinations and a progress report in October. A parent-teacher meeting is held annually for each year group.
Credit is given to second-year students for the completion of a project as part of the overall grade in the formal school reports. It is recommended that credit be similarly given to the other junior cycle groups for practical work completed during the year.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation of Science and Biology:
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 teacher of Science and Biology and with the principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published November 2008