An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science, Biology and Agricultural Science
St Declanís Community College,
Roll number: 72230W
Date of inspection: 3 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science, biology and Agricultural Science
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Declanís Community College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science, Biology and Agricultural Science 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 studentsí 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 vice-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 study for their junior science. This is consistent with what is recommended by the curriculum guidelines. Classes are banded with students retaining, in the main, the same teacher for the duration of their junior science programme.
On completion of Junior Certificate, students enter the compulsory Transition Year (TY) programme. Students have an opportunity to study Biology, Physics, Chemistry and Agricultural Science during this year on a modular basis. There is an allocation of one double lesson weekly. The topics studied are, in the main, contained in the Leaving Certificate programme. Consideration should be given to expanding the topic range so as to complement rather than duplicate further studies the students may engage in during Leaving Certificate Biology.
At senior cycle the established Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programmes are offered in the school. Students study the elective Science in year one of their LCA programme. There is an allocation of one double lesson and one single lesson weekly for this subject. Management and relevant staff are considering the introduction of the vocational specialism Agriculture/Horticulture to their current LCA programme. The relevant support service and syllabus documents should be consulted as part of the decision-making process. Students in the school have a choice of four senior science subjects, Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Agricultural Science. 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 four single lessons in year one and one double lesson and three single lessons in year two of Leaving Certificate, which satisfies curriculum guidelines.
Six staff members are currently involved in the delivery of some of the Science, Biology and Agricultural Science in the school. The school has three laboratories and one demonstration room. Not all the facilities are located in the same area, which makes the sharing of resources difficult. All facilities are designated for junior Science, with a designation at Leaving Certificate for specific laboratories. Each laboratory has a preparation/storage area attached. These spaces are organised with a lot of materials and equipment located in boxes for easy transport to the laboratory, which is to be commended. The location of the demonstration room very close to one of the laboratories will allow the movement of some materials and equipment between the two facilities. This will ensure that some student activities could occur in this space. The location of some permanent pieces of equipment in a secure press could be considered by the team for this space, which could help to expand the type of work that can occur in this room. All the facilities are well maintained though some will require some refurbishment in the future. Planning for this should be done in consultation between management and the science team.
Currently all science classes cannot take place in the laboratory. In the main, at minimum double lessons occur in the laboratory. Collaboration of the science team results in a timetable for laboratory access for classes. Management allocates a yearly budget for materials and equipment to ensure the upkeep and development of the sciences in the school. This practice is running satisfactorily in the school.
It is to be commended that computers and data projectors are available as resources in the science facilities. Internet availability is also present in the laboratories. 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 in and around the science facilities to display science-related material is also noted and is to be commended. These should be updated regularly to maintain studentsí interest. There was a display of posters on the walls in the laboratories, some of which were of student origin, which is to be encouraged. The inclusion of visual material in classrooms, which are used for some science classes, should be considered by the science team. This will help to enhance the learning for the students.
The school current health and safety statement was drawn up in 2003 in which the science staff were involved. Management stated that this statement was, reviewed in January 2007. Safety equipment observed in the laboratories included fire extinguishers, safety blanket and safety glasses. The display of additional safety signage could also be considered in the laboratories by the science team. 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.
Opportunities such as ecological fieldtrips and quizzes have been provided to the students. These allow the students to experience science outside the laboratory, which is good practice and develops and enhances the work in the classroom. The continuation and development of such activities are to be encouraged. The science team has availed of junior Science and Senior Biology in-service. Opportunities for continuing professional development (CPD), should continue to form part of the teams plans as they develop and move forward.
The school is engaged in school development planning with subject planning organised as part of the process to date. Management has facilitated formal meeting times for each subject department. Minutes are recorded at these meetings, with one teacher taking the role of co-ordinator. In addition to these formal meetings, regular informal meetings occur among the team, usually at lunchtime. This is to be commended and has resulted in the formulation of common plans for all the subject areas. The team has also discussed areas such as cross-curricular planning, resources available, health and safety and record keeping, which is commendable. In addition, the team has devised guidelines for inducting new teachers to the Science department. This has proved very important during this academic year with a large number of part-time personnel engaged in the school. The production of these planning documents has resulted in a common approach being adopted by the team in the areas mentioned, which is good practice.
The lessons observed were well prepared. Handouts for class assignments and homework, PowerPoint presentation to aid learning and visualisation of a topic, models to illustrate a specific process to help studentsí understanding and organised board work which aided students in their note-taking were all observed. The sharing of resources that are prepared individually and found to be effective in the teaching of certain topics among the team is to be encouraged. In addition the team as part of there overall future planning could also consider studentsí achievement, homework, revision work, support and planning for mixed-ability classes, support and planning for students with special educational needs, in-career development, and the integration of ICT. Review and possible modifications to meet the needs of the students of all plans developed will also need to be considered by the team. 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.
Barley, DNA, beef cattle, respiration, separation techniques, genetics and photosynthesis 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. Lessons generally began with recall of previous learning. Questioning to named students was the main methodology used. In addition, further questioning occurred throughout the lessons mainly for two reasons. Firstly, to ascertain studentsí understanding and secondly, to probe students and get them to think more deeply about the topic under investigation. This higher-order questioning is good to see and is to be encouraged. Students should be encouraged to close all books and notes before questioning, to ensure student learning is being ascertained.
A good student-teacher rapport was evident in the lessons observed. Discipline was sensitively maintained with effective classroom management also evident. Lessons were of an appropriate pace to facilitate studentsí learning. In all lessons the teacher circulated around the room ensuring studentsí engagement, which is good practice. Good linkages were established with previous work, which aided learning and is good practice. When the objectives of the lesson were outlined to the student it helped focus their learning. This was a good approach and served to help the teacher evaluate the studentsí learning outcomes for the lesson and should be considered for all lesson types. Learning was reinforced through the use of various types of handouts and worksheets, well-constructed board work, acetates, use of models, presentations on PowerPoint, use of textbooks, teacher demonstrations and student-based investigations. An integrated approach was observed with a variety of methodologies employed in the lessons observed, which is good practice. These all aided the students to visualise the material being studied and thus help their learning. 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. 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 student for use in their learning.
In the main, lesson content and approaches to the delivery of material was appropriate to the mixed-ability nature of the classes. Some very good examples of differentiation were observed, which aided student learning. Further use of this and other methodologies to help student learning are to be encouraged. The team, as part of their planning, should discuss approaches and strategies that will aid the teaching and learning processes. Theory-based lessons used board work, acetates, PowerPoint, handouts, worksheets and teacher demonstration to aid and enhance the delivery of new material. Student practical activities were observed in some of the lessons. Students demonstrated a good level of skill when carrying out their various tasks. Sufficient time must always be afforded to the completion of the practical tasks. On completion of most practical activities there was guided discussion by the teacher, which helped to consolidate learning and is to be encouraged. This will also aid studentsí ability to make a record of their practical work. Observation of studentsí practical laboratory notebooks provided evidence of further practical work completed by the students. Monitoring of studentsí practical notebooks is encouraged and could be incorporated into the scheme for assessment.
Homework was assigned in the lessons observed. It comprised both written and learning components for the students and in the main was set to help the students in their learning and retention of the work completed in class, which is good practice. During the lessons there was some reference to textbooks. In the main this was used to reinforce and supplement the teaching and learning completed in class.
Student learning is informally assessed daily through homework and oral questioning during the lessons. Class examinations are administered at the end of each month. The teacher for all tests completed records studentsí results. Consideration should 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. Details of Assessment for Learning (AfL) methodologies to further enhance the impact of formative assessment on studentsí learning are available on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) website www.ncca.ie.
Formal school examinations occur at Christmas and summer, with examination classes also sitting pre-examinations in the spring of their examination year. The teachers currently correct the pre-examination scripts for the Junior Certificate students, with all Leaving Certificate scripts corrected externally. Formal reports are sent to parents following Christmas, summer and pre-examinations. In addition to reports, parent-teacher meetings are held for all classes annually.
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:
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.