An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Chemistry
Dingle, County Kerry
Roll number: 61301I
Date of inspection: 25 September 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Chemistry
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Íde, Dingle. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science and Chemistry 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 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 the 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 to this report.
Whole-school support for the sciences is very good in Coláiste Íde. Junior Certificate Science and Leaving Certificate Biology are core subjects while Physics and Chemistry are offered as optional subjects for Leaving Certificate. The uptake of the sciences for Leaving Certificate is good. It is clear that students are encouraged in their study of the sciences. The time allocation for the sciences is in line with syllabus guidelines. All class groups have an appropriate distribution of lessons across the week including a weekly double lesson to facilitate practical work. This maximises students’ contact with the subjects and. this is to be commended.
Management and teachers are commended on their proactive approach to the refurbishment of the science laboratory. The laboratory is attractive and provides a stimulating learning environment, which is enhanced by a variety of educational posters and biological models. It is suggested that students’ work be publicly affirmed by exhibiting examples of it in the laboratory as the year proceeds. There is a good level of safety equipment such as fire extinguishers and safety blankets in the laboratory. Chemicals are stored in a separate store that was reported to have a flame resistant door. It is recommended that chemicals be stored according to Department of Education and Science guidelines. Information on the safe storage classification groups can be obtained on the chemistry section of the Second Level Support Service web site, www.slss.ie. Teachers should ensure that oxidisers are stored separately from the flammable chemicals at all times. It is noteworthy that laboratory safety practices are highlighted by the display of the safety rules on the door of the laboratory. The health and safety statement has been reviewed during the last academic year in consultation with the science teachers. This is commended.
All science classes are of mixed ability. Students are encouraged to study higher-level Science, final decisions not made until completion of the pre-examinations. Classes retain the same teacher throughout junior cycle and again in senior cycle. This is praiseworthy as it promotes continuity of learning. Commendably, students with special educational needs are provided with a range of supports in order that they may achieve to the best of their abilities.
Students entering fifth year are supported in making their subject choices. Initially students are offered an open choice. These choices are then used to create a “best-fit” model for the Leaving Certificate subjects. This is commended.
A good level of information and communication technologies (ICT) facilities, including data logging equipment, a computer with Internet access, a data projector and an overhead projector are present in the laboratory. In addition there is access to a computer room and laptop computers are provided for use by the staff. Management is to be commended on its provision of these ICT resources. The science teachers are encouraged to utilise these as much as possible to support the teaching and learning processes. It is good to note that the science teachers are supported financially by management on a needs basis for the updating, repair and enhancement of existing resources. Teachers are encouraged to continue augmenting the scientific resources each year.
It was reported that supports are provided to first-year students in order to enhance their understanding of Irish so that subjects can be taught through the medium of Irish. Each first-year student has a twenty-minute period of individual support three times a week provided by the language assistants. This takes place outside of timetabled lessons, thus provided additional assistance to the student. In addition it is understood that lessons may be conducted in a bilingual mode if it is deemed necessary during the first number of weeks in first year. Furthermore, committees comprising sixth-year prefects organise activities for students and competitions such as ‘sean-fhocail’ and Irish poster competitions that provide opportunities to enhance students’ knowledge and understanding of Irish. All class groups whose students have communicated only through the medium of Irish receive a privilege each month and this provides positive encouragement for the use of Irish as a means of communication.
Management encourages teachers to avail of all continuing professional development (CPD) training being offered. The teachers have attended in-career development in the sciences and the school supports membership of the Irish Science Teachers’ Association. In recent time teachers have attended in-service courses such as “Discover Sensors”. This is commended as in this way teachers keep informed of issues concerning science education. The school’s commitment to enhancing the educational experience of its students is illustrated by its participation in the “Learning School” project. A directory of useful Irish phrases and words encompassing all aspects of students’ life in this all-Irish boarding school was devised during the lifetime of the project. Further whole-staff CPD was undertaken in the area of ICT and special educational needs. Such commitment is praiseworthy.
A good level of provision is made for co-curricular and extracurricular science activities including fieldtrips, quizzes and entries into the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition. Those involved are to be praised for their commitment to facilitating such educational and motivating activities.
A good standard of planning contributed to the teaching and learning observed in individual lessons. The ready availability of chemicals, equipment and other resources provided for well-organised student practical work. In one instance, worksheets supported students’ learning. A term-by-term programme of work has been devised for Chemistry. In addition, a term-by-term programme of work, supplemented by the recent commencement of a more detailed written plan incorporating for example, aims, objectives, timeframes, modes of assessment and teaching strategies, assists the effective organisation and implementation of the science syllabus. It is recommended that the comprehensive work that has begun in Science be extended to all science subjects and that all science-specific programmes of work be incorporated into what would then be a more complete science department plan. There was evidence of compiled folders of resources, including worksheets and examination material, to support the learning and teaching process. This is commended.
The small size of the science department in Coláiste Íde, comprising two teachers, facilitates a good level of informal communication on an ongoing basis. To supplement this collaboration, formal meetings that are minuted by the co-ordinator are held during the year. Currently, as one teacher takes all students for Science, a common programme of work is not deemed necessary in the school. Significantly, a system has been put in place to ensure the continued enhancement of equipment and resources. The science teachers are commended for the sharing of resources with colleagues in other schools. This level of collegiality supports the teaching and learning of the sciences in the school.
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. Those very few instances of indiscipline were dealt with sensitively. Humour was evident in one or two instances.
Lessons were structured and in almost all instances the pace was appropriate. When planning lessons, cognisance needs to be taken of students’ varying rates of work, particularly in the area of practical work. Activities should be differentiated or alternatively supplementary activities should be planned to facilitate the needs of all students. When sharing the learning outcomes of lessons at the outset, consideration should be given to outlining the work that must be, should be and could be completed during the lesson.
In all instances cognisance was taken of the students’ needs and abilities in using Irish as a means of communication. All lessons were conducted in Irish, with some translation into English being employed in one junior cycle lesson in order to ensure that all students could access the scientific concepts being taught. This is commended.
The white board was effectively used to illustrate concepts in a visual manner. To provide additional support to students during the learning process and to reinforce concepts, it is recommended that the main points of lessons be recorded on the white board and where possible retained until the end of the lesson when they could be revisited.
In a theory lesson, questions were very effectively used to ascertain students’ previous knowledge of the topic and subsequently to develop the lesson concepts. Significantly, both lower-order and higher-order questions were utilised in a manner that challenged students’ understanding. The employment of questions as a teaching technique was also successful in ensuring students’ ongoing active participation in the lesson. Commendably, in some instances links were made to students’ experiences outside the laboratory, thus making the subject relevant and tangible. For example, in a lesson on compounds and mixtures, whole-class discussion on the food and drink that students had for breakfast that morning set the scene for developing lesson content.
Practical work was highly organised. Students worked in pairs or groups of three and 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 lesson, probing questions were effectively utilised to encourage students to suggest a suitable method for the investigation and to predict the results based on their previous learning. This is an excellent strategy that assists students to develop their higher-order thinking skills. In this lesson short practical activities were interspersed with whole-class question and answer sessions that reinforced students’ learning of the underlying concepts of the experimental work. This is very good practice. It is recommended that a recapitulation session be factored into the planning of all practical lessons in order that students’ learning could be ascertained and consolidated.
It was evident that student learning was taking place in 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 methods at the school are appropriate. Formal whole-school tests are held at Christmas and for non-examination classes in summer following which a report is issued to parents. Examination classes sit pre-examinations in the spring. Formative assessment, for all classes, is carried out on an ongoing basis by questioning in class and by means of regularly assigned homework and tests.
The school has recently devised a homework policy that is currently in draft stage. This is laudable. In line with school policy and classroom practice, students’ written work on practical activities and their homework was carried out in Irish. This is good practice as it consolidates learning that occurred during lessons. Some students’ copybooks illustrated a number of good examples of the desirable practice of teacher annotation, which reflects the principle of assessment for learning (AfL). This use of AfL is commended and its employment should be extended. Further information on AfL can be accessed at www.ncca.ie. All students had a laboratory notebook in which they recorded all their investigative and experimental work. The inclusion of practical work in the scheme of continuous assessment is commended, as it provides motivation for engagement by all students with the practical element of the course.
A good level of contact is maintained between the school and parents. In addition to reports, parent-teacher meetings are held for all classes annually and the school contacts parents as necessary. This is praiseworthy.
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 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, March 2009
School Response to the Report
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report
The board of management of Coláiste Íde would like to express their thanks for the professional evaluation that the inspector did with the teachers. It was a very positive experience.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The board would like to clarify that the oxidisers have since been separated from the flammable chemicals.