An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Chemistry
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Chemistry
This report has been written following a subject
Whole-school support for the sciences is very good in this school. The school’s curriculum includes Science as a core subject for Junior Certificate. Students are exposed to a broad range of aspects of science during Transition Year (TY) where they complete modules of Agricultural Science, Biology, Chemistry, Electronics and Physics on a rotational basis. This is commended because it is very much in keeping with the TY philosophy of a broad-based educational experience and the development of life skills. It is also good to note that Leaving Certificate subject pre-selection occurs at the end of TY, allowing students an extra year of experience and maturity before making their choices. The school currently offers Agricultural Science, Biology, Physics, and Chemistry as optional subjects to Leaving Certificate level. It is noteworthy that the uptake of Agricultural Science and the uptake of Biology are good and that the uptake of Physics and the uptake of Chemistry are very good.
Timetabling generally supports the delivery of the syllabus, with all science subjects having a good distribution of lessons across the week. However, the time allocation is slightly low due to the length of some class periods. Management is encouraged to explore strategies to address this matter. It is noteworthy that all Science classes in junior cycle are of mixed ability. All science classes have appropriate access to the laboratories.
The facilities are excellent, with six well-resourced laboratories and access to the demonstration room as required. In addition a science office has been provided to help in the co-ordination and management of the work of the science department. Furthermore science notice boards in the corridors outside the laboratories and the office facilitate the dissemination of information to the general student body. This is very good practice. The laboratories and the storage and preparation areas are very well organised. Management has created provision for a laboratory technician, who collaborates well with the science teachers and who effectively assists the teachers in the management of the resources and facilities available for the teaching of the sciences, in addition to the preparation of chemicals and equipment for practical lessons. Commendably, management provides an annual budget for the replenishment and updating of resources and equipment.
There is a very good level of information and communication technologies (ICT) to support the teaching and learning of the sciences. All science teachers have laptop computers, there is a data projector in each laboratory and data logging equipment has been purchased. Due regard is given to health and safety in science, each laboratory has an appropriate level of safety equipment and science safety rules are on display. In addition, a science safety statement has been devised to inform teachers and students on safe working practices. This is commended.
Subject choice at senior cycle is student driven and students receive timely advice and support when making these decisions. This is commended. A good level of communication exists between the science department and the learning-support department. It is recommended that these links be further developed and formalised. For example, a list of key scientific terminology could be devised by the science department for use by the learning-support and resource teachers.
A high level of provision is made for co-curricular and extracurricular science activities, including fieldtrips, participation in science week activities and entries to the Young Scientist and Technology exhibition and the Science Olympiads. A very active Green Schools committee targets issues such as environmental awareness and undertakes projects in a dynamic manner. Those involved are to be praised for their commitment to facilitating these educational and stimulating activities.
The team spirit in evidence in the science department facilitates a high level of both formal and informal collaboration and communication. This co-operation is enhanced by the work of a co-ordinator, the role of whom includes chairing and minuting of meetings and ordering of resources. Communication is augmented by the use of email by members of the department. This is good practice.
School management facilitates and actively encourages subject department collaboration and planning. Science department meetings take place frequently. Department planning documentation was presented during the course of the evaluation. Teachers are commended on the work involved in putting a working subject plan for science in place. This broad-ranging plan includes a common outline programme of work for each year group in junior cycle, plans for each TY module and programmes of work for each of the Leaving Certificate sciences. The Junior Certificate and the Leaving Certificate science plans are laid out on a topic-by-topic basis with chapter or syllabus references in some instances. Another programme of work outlines sub-topics. It is recommended that these programmes of work be reviewed over time and developed to include, for example, teaching and learning strategies and plans for assessment as well as resources. They could also be expanded to include the indicative timeframes for teaching and learning in each topic.
The ongoing evaluation of the chemistry plan by individual chemistry teachers is commended. It is timely for the chemistry team to review the programme with a view to incorporating timeframes that they have found successful for various topics, in this way providing consistency across the department. The TY chemistry plan is very good. It includes elements that consolidate students’ previous learning and some Leaving Certificate topics that are taught in an original and stimulating way that is significantly different to the approach for Leaving Certificate. In addition it has a practical focus and provides students with the opportunity to explore scientific topics that are not included in the Junior Certificate and the Leaving Certificate syllabuses. This is highly commended.
The subject department plan also incorporates for example, subject department policies on homework, ICT, special educational needs and a copy of the job specification for the laboratory technician. In addition the department has devised a science safety contract for completion by students. The department’s further commitment to safety is illustrated by the inclusion in the plan of a section on health and safety procedures and the science department’s risk assessment. This is commended. Incorporation of the storage classification codes for each of the chemicals in the safety section of the subject department plan could be considered.
The chemistry teachers are commended on the development of ICT resources and the sharing of these resources through the use of Moodle. This level of collegiality supports the teaching and learning of Chemistry in the school.
Planning for all lessons observed was very good. Advance preparation for lessons was illustrated by the effective planning for chemicals and equipment, and was equally apparent by the manner in which all resources were ready for use during lessons.
In all chemistry lessons observed, the structure was good and the pace was appropriate. In accordance with good practice the learning objectives were outlined at the outset. Building on this good practice it is recommended that the learning outcomes be visually displayed on the board, particularly in theory lessons, in order to assist students in assessing their own learning.
A broad range of methodologies was employed to develop students’ learning. These included teacher explanation, questioning, students’ practical activities and the use of ICT. Both the board and ICT were effectively used to outline the salient points in lessons and in addition ICT was successful in providing a pictorial representation of the steps involved in the ‘surface adsorption theory’.
Questioning was used very effectively to engage students in the learning activity, to introduce topics and to check students’ understanding and previous knowledge. Most of the questions were of a recall type, though some good use was made of more probing or open-ended questions. This is commended. The policy of directing questions to individual students, which generally speaking was employed by the teachers, is noted as good practice, and it is recommended that this be continued and further developed where appropriate.
Where active methodologies were employed the students were effectively engaged in learning. Group-work tasks were very successfully used in all lessons to engage students in learning. Students were interested and actively engaged by these methods and the learning outcomes were clear. One example was the utilisation of a short practical activity where students built organic molecules and this served to review previous learning while simultaneously reinforcing new lesson content.
Cognisance was taken by teachers of students’ prior learning and knowledge of the topic in developing lesson content in all lessons. For example, during a practical lesson on the preparation of ethyne, the teacher initially questioned students on factors that affect rates of reaction, subsequently linking students’ answers to the effect that the ambient temperature of the laboratory would have on the rate of production of ethyne in conjunction with the particle size of the calcium carbide. This is highly commended.
There was some evidence of the employment of very good links with Chemistry in everyday life, thus making the subject tangible and relevant in addition to promoting students’ interest. Examples included the use of sodium hydroxide as a drain cleaner and the use of oxyacetylene torches in the film Ocean’s Eleven.
Where students’ note-taking is deemed necessary, consideration could be given to the employment of note-making. Students could, for example, work in pairs work to record the main points of the topic from memory following class discussion. This strategy would facilitate students’ ongoing engagement in the learning process.
Practical work was highly organised. Students worked in pairs or groups of three, were confident and capable in setting up and completing the tasks in a safe manner. Their practical skills were well developed. As students performed practical activities the teachers constantly circulated within the room giving appropriate attention and support to individual students. Students were observed to contribute confidently throughout the practical activities. This is commended. In one of the lessons, probing questions were effectively utilised to encourage students to predict the experimental results based on their previous learning. This is an excellent strategy that assists students to develop their higher-order thinking skills.
All lessons had a recapitulation session in order that students’ learning could be consolidated. In both practical lessons a plenary session was employed on completion of the practical activity to reinforce students’ learning of the underlying concepts of the experimental work. This is very good practice. In the theory lessons this was mainly done by questioning students. One novel method employed was the innovative utilisation of “Who wants to be a Millionaire”. In addition to stimulating students’ interest it also facilitated students in discussing the appropriate answers in pairs. This is highly commended.
In all lessons observed, the atmosphere was warm and positive and most conducive to learning. Students’ contributions were affirmed regularly and, where tasks were given, these were achievable and had clear outcomes. All students were working and were responsive to encouragement. A very good teacher-student rapport existed and classroom management was relaxed and effective. Humour was evident in one or two instances.
A good and in some instances excellent quality of teaching and learning was observed in the chemistry lessons. It was evident that student learning was taking place in all of the lessons observed. The basis for this conclusion is observation of students’ interest, participation levels and contributions to the lessons, in addition to questioning of the students and review of their written work.
Assessment features strongly in daily teaching and
learning activities in
All chemistry students have laboratory notebooks in which they record their practical work. These practical books, that are generally monitored, are of a good standard. In some instances, this monitoring included grading and annotation of students’ work. This is good practice. Written and learning homework, which provides a suitable level of challenge for students, is regularly assigned. In all classes, students keep neat copybooks and complete their homework to a high standard. In most cases, students themselves correct their homework. Occasionally, homework is monitored by the teacher. Consideration could be given to the employment of Assessment for Learning (AfL). This would provide an opportunity to affirm work well done and comment on areas for improvement. This would also make students aware of the criteria for marking, thereby enhancing their role in their own learning.
There is a good level of communication with parents regarding students’ academic and personal progress. Reports are issued to parents on the outcomes of the school examinations. Contact is also maintained via the student journal and the annual parent-teacher meetings, which are held for each group. Records of student achievement and progress, as well as attendance, are documented by the teachers. Management conducts a subject-specific statistical analysis of State examination results. The results of this analysis are then communicated to the teachers.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
Whole-school support for the provision of the sciences is very good, as is evident by the provision of the sciences in all programmes on offer in the school. Laboratory facilities are impressive and safety standards are high.
The science and chemistry teachers adopt a collaborative and professional approach to their work. The subject department structure has enabled effective planning for resources, the compilation of a comprehensive science department plan and the development of common programmes of work.
High quality teaching and learning was observed in Chemistry. A good learning atmosphere existed in all lessons and teacher-student rapport was very good.
The use of various modes of assessment in TY is commended.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The links between the science department and the learning-support department should be further developed.
· Programmes of work for the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate sciences should be reviewed over time and developed to include, for example, teaching and learning strategies and plans for assessment as well as resources.
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 October 2008
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
In reviewing all aspects of its work under school development planning the Science department will give priority to the two recommendations as outlined in the inspection report.