An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Biology
Skerries Community College
Skerries County Dublin
Roll number: 76078Q
Date of inspection: 19 October 2006
Date of issue of report:††† 26 April 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Biology
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Skerries Community 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 this subject 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 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.
Science is well supported in Skerries Community College. The uptake of Science for Junior Certificate is good and all three Science subjects are offered at Senior cycle. It is commendable that Chemistry is retained on the programme despite low uptake and it is suggested that management and the science team investigate potential ways to increase the profile of Chemistry in the school.
There are five laboratories in the school, two of which are more recent additions to the school building. The two new laboratories have lockable adjacent storage and preparation areas. One storage and preparation area is shared between the three older laboratories. This contains a well organised chemicals store. Flammable and corrosive chemicals are stored in appropriate cabinets and other chemicals are stocked using a colour-coded system. Apparatus necessary for each of the Junior Certificate Science mandatory practicals is stored in labelled containers and these are checked regularly. The Science department are to be commended for this level of organisation and collaborative planning. The allocation of classes to the laboratories is formally timetabled but this is open to negotiation as needs be. The Science department are to be commended for their level of co-operation in organising access to the laboratories and it is recommended that management strive to maximise laboratory access, and in particular, the provision of double periods in the laboratories.
Junior Certificate third year Science classes are allocated four periods per week while first and second year Science classes are generally allocated 3 or 4 periods per week on a rotational basis. Attention is drawn to the NCCA syllabus guidelines of 4 periods per week in each year of Junior Certificate Science, an allocation that facilitates the more time-consuming mandatory practical activities and coursework B preparation. It is recommended that management attempt to address any time allocation issues in future timetabling planning. Transition Year Science is allocated 4 periods per week and 5 classes are allocated to Leaving Certificate Biology. This time allocation is appropriate. An adequate number of double periods have been allocated to the Sciences in order to facilitate investigative practical work. It is suggested that management strive to avoid timetabling Science double periods across break times or lunchtimes as a substantial number of experimental works must be monitored for their duration or cannot be left unattended for the duration of the break.
Opportunities for continuing professional development have been availed of and include both Junior Certificate Science and Leaving Certificate Biology inservice training by the support services for the revised syllabi. Members of the Science team have also been involved with Junior Certificate Support Service (JCSS) and the Biology Support Service (BSS), Women In Technology and Science (WITS), Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) which shows commendable commitment to Science. Co-curricular activities are promoted in the school. Senior Biology students have completed an Ecology field work module in Dublin Zoo, students are brought to Open Week in UCD, some students have been selected to compete in the Junior Science Olympiad and Chemistry Olympiad and a team are preparing their entry for the BT Young Scientist competition. TY students are involved in designing a website containing some syllabi from the Junior Certificate programme, which includes the Science syllabus. It will include a series of Powerpoint presentations and online testing. Science teachers have also arranged for DCU lecturers and various contributors to Science Plus magazine to address the students in the area of Science. TY students have also been involved with a recycling project in the school. These activities are to be commended as they help to encourage participation and interest in the sciences.
Long-term plans were extensive and appropriately set out according to SDPI guidelines. The curriculum planning section contained a list of topics to be covered in each year and it is suggested that this list be distributed to students in order to inform them of the topics to be covered during the year and to facilitate them in their planning for revision. Some student notebooks observed contained a list of mandatory practicals to be carried out during the year. This is good planning and it is suggested that this procedure be adopted throughout the science department.
Detailed short-term plans were also available for each lesson visited. Good short-term planning was also evidenced in the clear and structured lessons visited and the pre-prepared resources and materials. This level of planning made a positive contribution to the overall quality of teaching and learning in the classes visited.
Communication between the informally co-ordinated Science team is good. Scheduled formal meetings are held at least twice per year. The Science team set agendas in advance of meetings and record minutes. This is good practice. These meetings deal with organisational issues and review respectively. A team approach to the coordination of the Sciences operates in the school. In addition, informal coordination and communication occurs among the Science teachers on an ongoing basis, which helps to establish and maintain collaboration.
A range of lessons was observed from both Junior and Senior cycle and topics included microscope work, acids and bases, centre of gravity and converting food energy to heat energy. During the inspection, studentsí 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 activity, groupwork, teacher 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, Powerpoint and textbooks. The frequent opportunities for interaction during lessons 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. 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 studentsí 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.
A range of assessment modes, both formative and summative, is regularly used to assess student competence and progress in Science and Biology. Formative assessment is carried out on an on-going basis through oral questioning, student observation, written assignments and the assessment of project and practical work. Class tests are also administered at regular intervals. All assessment outcomes are systematically recorded in the teacherís journal. This good practice helps to build a profile of studentsí progress and achievement in the subject over time. It is commendable that these profiles are used by the teacher to provide advice on examination levels to students and parents. Formal in-house examinations take place in February for all students and in May for non-certificate exam students. It is recommended that the science team include a percentage allocation for standard of notebooks/practicals completed in the house exams. This would reflect the coursework element of the revised Junior Certificate syllabus.
Homework was generally corrected at the beginning of the lesson and allocated at the end which is a good structured approach. 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. Some notebooks were checked regularly, a number showed evidence of annotation and correction of spelling and other assessment for learning practices. It is suggested that the Science teachers explore the possibility of developing common correcting procedures around homework, class notebooks and mandatory practical notebooks/folders. This would be further augmented by the inclusion of a form of follow up practice where students are encouraged to complete corrections and improvements highlighted by the teacher.
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.