An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Biology
Buncrana, County Donegal
Roll number: 71140Q
Date of inspection: 21 September 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Biology
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Crana College, Buncrana, Co Donegal. 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 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 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 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.
A good range of Science subjects is available in the school with all three Sciences offered in the Senior Cycle programme. At senior cycle, Biology is allocated five classes per week which is in line with NCCA curriculum guidelines. Third year Science classes are allocated four periods per week, which includes one double period to facilitate investigative practical work, now a mandatory constituent of the revised Junior Certificate Science syllabus. First and second year Junior Science classes are allocated three class periods per week. This allocation will inescapably have unfavourable effects on the pacing of topics and their associated experimental work. It is recommended that management explore potential timetabling options to attempt to rectify this shortcoming and attempt to bring the class allocation up to the NCCA syllabus recommendation of four periods per week.
The school has one laboratory with adjacent lockable storage room. Chemicals are stored appropriately, flammables and toxics in relevant cabinets and the remainder on colour coded shelves. Some practical equipment has been arranged into containers for named practical activities which is highly commendable practice and the Science team have planned to extend this to include all the mandatory investigations on the Junior Science syllabus. The laboratory also stores a range of teacher generated resource materials including overhead projector (OHP) transparencies, worksheets and handouts have been generated by the Science team and it was reported during the evaluation that this valuable resource is utilised and revised when required. This sharing of common resource materials is laudable. During the course of the evaluation it was reported that management are looking into the potential to augment the present laboratory and demonstration room which is praiseworthy. Access to the laboratory is negotiated between the Science team and the resulting timetable for laboratory access was available during the course of the evaluation. It is commendable that the Science team show such commitment in maximising laboratory access.
The Science department actively promote the sciences within the school and encourage participation in a range of co-curricular activities such as Salters Festival of Chemistry in the University of Ulster, Coleraine, ISTA Science quizzes and W5 in Belfast. The Science notice board in the school displays photos, certificates, notices of science competitions, science events and student achievements. The Science department also makes regular contributions to “Crana College notes” in the local paper in order to celebrate student attainment. It is also commendable that the Science team run a weekly Science Club every Tuesday from 4-5pm where Junior Science students are mentored in the area of Science by current fourth year Science students. This takes place as part of the fourth year students Gaisce Awards. The students participate in ‘fun’ experiments such as ‘bouncing custard balls’ and ‘making stained glass windows’. Attendance at the Science club is reportedly high. These activities which foster interest and initiative in Science are to be highly commended and the teachers involved are to be congratulated for their commitment, without which the students would not benefit from such stimulating experiences.
Collaborative plans were available for both Junior Certificate Science and Leaving Certificate Biology. These were very comprehensive and included reference to the schools’ mission statement, the aims and objectives of the courses, subject organisation, teacher organisation and cross curricular planning. Senior cycle Biology schemes of work contained a breakdown of the Biology syllabus and listing of the mandatory experiments to be carried out. It is recommended that the Science team distribute these lists to students at the beginning of the school year in order to facilitate their planning and revision. Junior Certificate Science plans were comprehensive and contained a detailed weekly breakdown of the syllabus, resources to be used and practical investigations to be carried out. It is suggested that the table of syllabus topics and mandatory experiments found in the Science department plans be adopted as a planning chart on the notice board in the laboratory to assist in forward planning and collaboration.
Co-ordination within the Science team is very good and informal departmental meetings are held regularly to discuss short term planning for resources, class tests and students educational needs. Formal departmental meetings are held on a once-a-term basis which is good practice and these are used to formulate common tests and review long term planning. Minutes of the Science meetings were available. The Science team have developed a computerised catalogue of stock such as chemicals and materials, and this facilitates stock control and ordering of materials. It is recommended that the team investigate the development of a departmental action plan where they can highlight future needs and developments within the coming year.
A range of lessons were observed from both Junior and Senior cycle and topics included Vertebrates and Invertebrates, Classification, Recap on Ecology field trip and Transpiration. During the inspection, students’ practical notebooks, homework and classwork exercise books were also examined. Lessons generally began with a roll call and were delivered using a variety of methodologies which included, paired work, groupwork, spot demonstrations, boardwork, investigative experimental work, active learning and questioning. This varied use of methodologies served to keep students on task and engaged in the topic. Use was made of a range of resources, which included lab apparatus, diagrams, worksheets, OHP transparencies, whiteboard and textbooks. The frequent opportunities for interaction and the range of resources and methodologies used provided an engaging and stimulating learning experience and this is good practice. Teachers displayed commitment and enthusiasm for the subject. Lessons were characterised by good interactions and most student responses indicated a sound understanding of scientific concepts and good scientific literacy which is praiseworthy. It is recommended that teachers use their plans during a lesson as working documents and afterwards note methodologies and active teaching strategies which proved effective. This will lead to the development of a bank of effective methodologies which can be shared within the Science department and will serve to promote and disseminate the good quality teaching evidenced during the course of the evaluation.
Practical work was purposeful and carried out with due regard for health and safety issues. Students worked competently and with an appropriate level of teacher intervention. Discipline was good and a positive rapport existed between students and their teachers. This was further promoted by the frequent affirmation of the class teacher. Teacher movement around the classroom and the adoption of varying styles of questioning ensured all students were on task. Students were challenged by the level of questioning which encouraged higher order thinking skills. Students were encouraged to participate in class discussions and good use of everyday examples helped students to link new material to previously acquired knowledge. This augmented teaching and learning by making Science relevant to students’ everyday lives.
Differentiation was evidenced as key words were reinforced and noted on the white board, students were encouraged to note pronunciation of new words and some one to one attention was observed in teaching mixed ability classes. Regular meetings with the Learning Support team were reported during the evaluation and this informs the Science department on developments regarding students’ specific educational needs. This is good practice.
Whole school tests take place for all students at mid-term and Christmas. Certificate exam students sit mock exams in the second term while summer tests are drawn up for non-certificate exam classes. These take the form of common Science tests which is good practice. Results of these tests are conveyed to parents at annual parent teacher meetings and school reports at Christmas and summer. It is recommended that the Science team consider the inclusion of a percentage allocation for coursework or standard of notebooks in these common tests. This allocation would reflect the allocation for coursework which is now an integral part of the Junior Certificate Science course.
Homework exercise books and Science laboratory notebooks were observed during the evaluation. These were generally of a good standard and reflected the mixed ability nature of the classes observed. Notebooks were checked regularly, some showed evidence of annotation and correction of spelling and other assessment for learning practices. Further information on assessment for learning is available on the NCCA website. It is suggested that the Science teachers explore the possibility of developing common correcting procedures with a view to developing an assessment policy within the department.
Each student has a formal school diary. As well as a homework record for the student it also serves as the main communication mechanism between home and school. A range of school policies are included in the publication such as the discipline policy and homework policy. At the end of each class the student is encouraged to note the homework in the diary. The diary is checked regularly be the students’ form teacher and parents are encouraged to sign the journal periodically. This level of communication is laudable.
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 Biology and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.