An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Biology
Carndonagh Community School
Carndonagh, County Donegal
Roll number: 91406 R
Date of inspection: 15 November 2006
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Biology
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Carndonagh Community School. 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 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
An extensive range of programmes is offered in Carndonagh Community School. These include Junior Certificate, Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), an optional Transition Year (TY), Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA), Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and the traditional Leaving Certificate. A range of post leaving certificate courses is also available.
Science is a core subject to Junior Certificate level. All first year students avail of three classes of science tuition per week. This generally increases to four classes in second and third year, while some classes are apportioned five classes at this time. Currently, the allocation of an extra science class is on a random basis and it is recommended that management would provide this extra class on a rotational basis or explore the possibility of its allocation in first year.
The senior cycle programme contains a range of science subjects which include Chemistry, Physics, Agricultural Science, Physics/Chemistry and Biology. Biology is the most popular option in the Science group and uptake is high. It is regrettable that the uptake for Physics/Chemistry did not facilitate its inclusion on the fourth year programme this year. The Transition Year programme contains modules of Physics and Chemistry and it was reported that these modules serve to promote the uptake of Physics and Chemistry in the senior cycle. In the interests of providing a more balanced TY programme in the sciences, it is recommended that this provision be expanded to include a component of Biology and Agricultural Science.
All science classes avail of at least one double period per week and this is always held in the laboratory. This is good practice. Laboratory access is good and while it is mainly formally timetabled there is also good communication and co-ordination between the science team to negotiate access informally when required. There are currently eight laboratories in the school. As a result of downsizing over a number of years, management is exploring the potential for decommissioning one of these laboratories. The remaining seven laboratories are tidy and well maintained with good displays of colourful charts and student generated materials. One science laboratory displays remarkable wall murals including a time line which depicts advances and breakthroughs in science through the ages while another wall shows an astronaut in space. These noteworthy displays were the result of much personal application by the current fifth year students and their science teacher.
Three of the laboratories together with shared storage area are found in the main building while a further three laboratories and shared storage area are located in the technology block. Both storage and preparation areas were tidy and well organized. One contained boxes of materials and apparatus required for each of the Junior Certificate mandatory science practicals which is an excellent and time saving resource. An area of the preparation room is also designated as a ‘safe storage’ area for mandatory practical notebooks. This level of organization is laudable. General chemicals are appropriately organized on shelves in both the store rooms while one of the store rooms contains suitable cabinets for the safekeeping of toxics and flammables. It is recommended that such cabinets be put in place in all store rooms to allow for the safe storage of toxics and flammable chemicals. In the interests of security it is further suggested that allocation of keys for the chemical stores be reviewed.
The majority of the science team have benefited from opportunities for continuing professional development during national in-service training in the revised biology and Junior Certificate science syllabuses. Management is to be commended for its commitment to facilitating this in-service and for on-going consideration in supporting staff training needs. It is recommended that where science teachers have missed in-service training that the appropriate support services be contacted in order to remedy this shortfall. Management is encouraged to put practice in place where teachers who have missed courses can avail of the expertise of their colleagues and materials disseminated among the science team. A programme of induction for new teachers is also in operation in the school and the potential for mentoring is being explored.
A science notice board is found on the main corridor which is used both as a source of information for students and staff on science related events and the celebration of student achievements during the school year. As this evaluation took place during Science Week a number of notable science displays were exhibited on the concourse. This is praiseworthy as it serves to bring science issues to the attention of the student body and helps make science more relevant to students everyday lives.
The science department actively promote the sciences within the school and encourage participation in a wide range of co-curricular activities that foster interest and initiative, which have included trips to Letterkenny Institute of Technology Science laboratories to develop their interests in Research, Food Science, Chemistry, Microbiology and Biology. Science teachers have also organised trips to the BT Young Scientist Exhibition and groups of students have entered for the competition in the past. The science department have also arranged for various speakers and lecturers to talk to groups of students - for example, a presentation from a marine scientist from ENFO aimed at creating awareness of science in the school, a visit from a local engineer to encourage students to explore the world of science and technology. This was organised through the Science Technology& Engineering Programme for Schools (STEPS). Postgraduate students from the Science faculty at NUI Maynooth have also talked to third year students to promote the uptake of senior cycle science subjects. This is praiseworthy practice. In addition, the science department have staged a magic show for incoming first years on induction day. A science travelling roadshow designed for third year and transition year students has been presented in the school which was reportedly a great success in promoting science subjects at senior cycle. A ‘Physics Show’ and a ‘Rocket Workshop’ have also been organised in the past. These workshops were run as hands-on science lessons where students carried out experiments for themselves.
Cross-curricular activities include ‘acid etching’ of designs into copper metal for the art department and testing for limestone using hydrochloric acid in geography classes.
All of these activities 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.
Management have facilitated planning by the provision of time for meetings at the start of the school year. Minutes were available for formal meetings held by the science department which is good practice, and regular informal meetings are also held. Co-ordination within the science department is effective and allows the smooth running of both the junior science department and the senior biology department.
Comprehensive long-term plans were available for Junior Certificate Science. These were collaborative, syllabus-based and framed within the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) guidelines. They contained reference to student access to subjects and levels, grouping of students, class organisation, cross-curricular planning, teaching methodologies, resources to be used, curriculum content, homework, procedures, assessment procedures, record keeping, teacher in-career development, provision for health and safety requirements and a list of priorities for 2005/6. Extensive long term planning documentation was also available for Leaving Certificate Biology which was appropriate and there is potential to organise these documents according to SDPI guidelines. A list of topics to be completed in each year was noted in the long-term planning documentation observed and it is recommended that this list and associated mandatory practical activities be distributed to students at the beginning of the year to give both students and parents an overview of the year’s work and to assist them in their planning and revision.
There was evidence of good short-term planning by individual teachers. Lessons had a clear purpose, and were, in most cases, developed from previously taught subject matter. Homework was frequently and regularly assigned and corrected. In some classes observed it was evident that each lesson formed part of a larger unit of work. This good practice is commended as it provides a logical framework within which effective learning can take place. There was also careful preparation of resources to be used during the course of lessons observed. In some classes visited very effective use was made of the overhead projector, as the teacher used a series of transparencies to provide a clear visual presentation of the subject matter. The use of such visual stimuli made a significant contribution to enhancing student understanding of scientific processes and helped to keep students on task during the lesson.
The science department liaises with the special needs department to assist in the delivery of science lessons. The department are currently planning to develop a ‘flexible framework’ which will clarify what the teacher expects of the special needs assistant (SNA) in particular circumstances. This is planned to be developed as a departmental plan which will be specific to Science.
Science magazines such as Spin Science, Interactions, Chemistry in Action, Science plus, New Scientist, Science and Physics World were available in some laboratories. The school library has a substantial number of science books and it benefits from the services of a full time librarian. It is commendable that the library is open on all school days from 9.00 to 18.00. This well maintained facility is organised using the Dewey decimal classification system. Co-ordination with the Donegal County Library has enabled the school library to avail of up to seventy books through an inter-library loan scheme.
A range of lessons was visited from both senior cycle Biology and Junior Certificate Science. Topics included metals, growing micro-organisms, the effect of IAA on the growth of shoots and roots, centre of gravity, measurement and titration. Classes visited displayed a positive atmosphere and discipline was generally maintained through the nature of the work planned.
A range of methodologies was utilized and included groupwork, paired work, use of the white board, use of overhead projector, use of data projector, questioning, active learning, teacher demonstration. Potential to vary the methodologies exists in some lessons, particularly where a small number of students have a short attention span - for example the inclusion of shorter tasks where achievement and success is fairly immediate may help to engage students in their own learning.
Lessons were presented in a coherent and confident manner and the purpose of each lesson was clearly established from the outset. Students were aware of exactly what was expected of them and what the intended outcome of the lesson was. Lesson development was good and the pace of learning was generally appropriate to student ability. Although the atmosphere in the classes was congenial, high expectations in terms of participation and behaviour were set and the lessons were taught with enthusiasm.
Students were alert and focused on the topic being studied and the majority of students demonstrated both maturity and motivation in their approach to learning. Student-teacher relationships were at all times positive and all feedback given was encouraging. This led to the successful and continuous participation of students in their lessons and the development of a secure and purposeful learning environment, all of which is highly commended.
Practical work was observed in a number of lessons visited and carried out with due regard for health and safety regulations. Safety regulations were displayed on the walls in the laboratories and in some student notebooks. It is suggested that this practice be extended to all notebooks. The majority of students displayed a mature attitude to experimental work and they were familiar with the routines involved. This is good practice as the development of set routines around setting up and putting away of apparatus promotes the smooth running of a practical class. Some teachers encouraged groups to discuss the plan and proceed with its implementation in as far as possible. This is praiseworthy as it encourages autonomous learning. Some good examples of differentiated teaching methodologies were also observed. Where observed, SNAs and resource teachers worked unobtrusively in the class and served to augment the quality of teaching and learning by some one to one work and group intervention.
When questioned, the majority of students were knowledgeable of material covered recently in their classwork copies. Some students answered confidently and were keen to engage in discussions of scientific topics.
A variety of forms of assessment are used in Carndonagh Community School. All students sit formal examinations in November and at Easter. Classes preparing to take Junior and Leaving Certificate Examinations in June sit mock examinations in the second term. Common tests for non-certificate examinations are drawn up by the science team and it is commendable that this is a collaborative process resulting in a common test for each year group where appropriate. It is recommended that consideration be given to the award of marks for the standard of student notebooks or write-up of an experiment to keep assessment practices in line with the revised Junior Certificate science syllabus.
Communication with parents is highly regarded in Carndonagh Community School. Reports are issued to parents following examinations. Student progress is also reported on at formal parent teacher meetings while parents are kept up to date with information on upcoming events in the school newsletter ‘Zodiac’ and on the school website.
Class tests are used as a means of assessing student progress and teachers record the results of these tests in their teachers’ diary. Some teacher’s journals were used as an effective means of recording student attainment and a useful form of feedback for parents. Reference was made to test results, discipline issues, homework completed, absenteeism, medical information and educational support where applicable. Such comprehensive records are laudable and the information recorded can be used to build up student profiles and can form the basis of very useful evidence in communicating student progress to parents.
Student mandatory practical record books were generally well maintained and contained an appropriate range of practical activities. Some showed evidence of checking and overall the correcting practices include checking, stamping, annotation, allocation of grades, verbal and written feedback. The science team are recommended to explore the potential of developing common correcting practices with a view to the production of an assessment plan for the department. In some classes visited the quality of work in students’ copybooks was impressive and deserves acknowledgement. This feedback helps to develop good study habits and provides the students with a sense of achievement. Where students received formative comments from their teachers, advice was provided on how to improve the quality of their work and student effort was affirmed. This good practice is commended as it encourages and supports student learning and its wider use is recommended. It is suggested that the science department explore the potential for follow-up on corrections carried out in order to reinforce the teaching and learning taking place.
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 with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management wish to acknowledge the professional and courteous manner in which this Subject Inspection was conducted and welcomes the advice offered for the promotion of the subjects and for teaching and learning. The Board recognises the many positive elements of the Report and commits itself to addressing the recommendations therein. The Principal will discuss the recommendations in the report with the Science and Biology Departments.
The Board wish to respond to the following items:
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection