An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physics
Loreto Abbey Secondary School
Dalkey, County Dublin
Roll number: 60130C
Date of inspection: 27 March 2009
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN PHYSICS
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto Abbey Secondary School, Dalkey. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Physics and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over one day 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 teacher. 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 teacher. 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 a core subject at Loreto Abbey Secondary School, Dalkey. In the current year, there are four mixed ability science class groups in each year of junior cycle. Science is also a core part of the optional Transition Year (TY) programme. The TY science programme has been designed as a Transition Unit and is well balanced with a clear focus on applied aspects of Physics, Chemistry and Biology. For example, the physics content includes electronics and problem solving skills. This approach is very good and is in line with TY guidelines. The TY science programme is taught for three class periods per week and continues for the whole year.
There is very good provision of science subjects for Leaving Certificate with Physics, Chemistry and Biology offered to students. There is currently one class group in Physics in both fifth year and sixth year, with four students in the fifth year class and seven students in sixth year. Indications for next year suggest an increased uptake of Physics which is an encouraging development. Students are provided with a special programme on senior science options during TY. In addition, TY students are encouraged to attend a variety of seminars on physics-related topics and have successfully participated in relevant programmes and competitions that encourage careers in Physics. School management and the science department are commended for supporting the subject in this way. However, further measures may need to be explored and implemented to promote increased uptake of Physics over coming years. Senior management should try to ensure that the subject specialist teacher delivers the relevant science module in TY. The deployment of physics specialist staff for Science at junior cycle would also help to promote Physics uptake at senior cycle.
Continuous professional development (CPD) is well supported by school management. There is a staff professional development policy in place and very good practice regarding new teacher induction was evident. Teachers are facilitated in attending relevant in-service courses and are supported in membership of a professional organisation. The school’s physics department is currently affiliated to the Institute of Physics.
Time allocation to Physics at senior cycle is in line with syllabus requirements. Leaving Certificate Physics is allocated one double and three single class periods.
The school has four science laboratories, some having an adjoining preparation and storage area. Information and communications technology (ICT) facilities in each laboratory have been enhanced with the provision of data projectors, laptop computers and broadband internet access. It is recommended that a bank of shared ICT resources be maintained so that ICT can more easily be integrated into students’ learning experience. The way in which the laboratories were maintained and equipment was stored was very good. This is commended. The school provides an adequate budget for science equipment and resources at both junior and senior cycle. There is very good access to each of the science laboratories with very good collaboration across the science department. The fact that the school library has a good section on Science to facilitate student research and further study is excellent.
The school’s health and safety statement was reviewed in the current year and is reviewed annually. The science department has a very good health and safety policy in place and classroom practices were consistent with this policy in the course of the evaluation, for example laboratory rules were on display, relevant safety equipment was in place and students wore safety glasses during relevant practical work. This is commended. Chemicals are currently stored in the preparation room between two laboratories. Therefore, it is recommended that chemicals be stored in line with best practice and Department guidelines. A separate chemical storage facility has been provided adjacent to the most recently constructed science laboratory and this facility should be used for this purpose.
Student participation in extra-curricular and out-of-school activities enriches and strengthens science provision in the school. These activities include the BT Young Scientists Competition, Physics in Medicine workshop at Dublin Institute of Technology, TY student participation in the School of Physics Programme and the Experience Engineering Programme at University College Dublin and the Design a Robot Competition at the National College of Ireland. Students of Loreto Abbey have been very successful in many of these competitions.
A very good level of planning is in place to support junior Science and senior Physics and current subject plans and schemes of work are in place. The physics plan is comprehensive and addresses many aspects of subject provision including; methodologies, resources, procedures for reporting on student progress, learning support, health and safety, cross-curricular strategies and assessment. For each section of the course methodologies and assessment criteria should be developed and linked with the syllabus content. Further planning for differentiated teaching practices including gifted students should also be incorporated into the plan. Action plans to promote increased uptake of the subject should be developed and reviewed as part of the department planning process. The level of individual teacher planning was very good.
A science subject co-ordinator is in place and this position rotates between members of the science department on an annual basis. Currently, the subject coordinator also holds a Special Duties Teacher (SDT) post and some of the duties attached to this post are related to science provision. Meetings are convened on average once per term, minutes are maintained and submitted to school management and an annual budget is discussed and submitted for consideration. Minutes of subject department meetings examined in the course of the evaluation provide evidence of the collaborative approach to planning adopted by the science department. Informal meetings take place as the need arises. Teachers’ commitment to planning is highly commended.
Planning and preparation for the lessons observed were very good. ICT and practical equipment were ready and set up in advance and resources had been pre-prepared. The content and delivery of lessons were well planned and executed.
The good atmosphere and rapport created in all lessons observed supported student learning. Students were enthusiastic and motivated to learn and levels of participation in lessons were high. Active learning was encouraged by the teacher and a discovery-led approach was prominent in some lessons. The affirmative environment ensured that students were valued and supported. Student acquisition of knowledge was incremental and was supported with clear explanations of key concepts. Very good critical thinking skills were promoted and developed. Support was given to students as a class group, in smaller working groups and to individuals. Lessons were in the main well structured and learning outcomes were shared with students in some of the lessons observed. It is recommended that each lesson begins with the sharing of learning outcomes and ends with a plenary session to enable students to further experience the achievement of completing specified tasks in a particular timeframe.
Methodologies were varied and effective in contributing to the achievement of lesson objectives. The board was used to highlight key ideas and as an aid to the explanation of mathematical concepts and this methodology consolidated problem-solving skills. Sample problems were clearly explained with the aid of the board. Opportunities presented themselves during some lessons to consolidate the links between lesson material and everyday applications of this material and these opportunities were not always availed of. It is recommended that these links be pursued. ICT was used appropriately as an effective methodology in the delivery of lessons. There was an example where a well-designed presentation supported active learning and contributed to successful outcomes. To further consolidate student learning and ownership of the learning process by students, it is recommended that students be required to carry out some research in advance of the presentation of new material. ICT could also be used as an aid to setting out lesson objectives and plenary sessions and as an aid to linking concepts taught to students’ everyday lives.
Questioning was used effectively. Questions were probing and sufficiently challenging and had the effect of both consolidating student learning and building on students’ knowledge and understanding. Students were generally confident at answering questions on their work and many demonstrated good problem-solving skills as evidenced in the course of the evaluation. Ongoing feedback from students through the use of challenging questions by the teacher ensured that the lesson pace was appropriate.
Student practical work took place in all lessons evaluated. During one lesson, students were revising sound and worked in small groups to consolidate their practical skills by repeating some key mandatory practical investigations. There was good emphasis on health and safety in that safety glasses were worn as appropriate. ICT workstations helped students to revise key concepts presented at the outset of the lesson. During another lesson, students investigated the specific latent heat of fusion of ice. The significant level of pre-planning and preparation on the part of the teacher contributed to successful outcomes for students. Students exhibited very good knowledge in the use of the practical apparatus and all groups achieved desired results. The provision of a focused worksheet incorporating a results table and appropriate questions on possible errors and precautions would have further developed students’ analytical skills.
The uptake of higher-level Physics is very good and has been consistently very good, as has the uptake of junior Science at higher level. Student achievement at both Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate is also very good with a large proportion of students achieving ABC grades at higher-level. A small cohort of students chooses to opt for ordinary level Physics. These students are very well supported and achieve well.
The school has a comprehensive homework policy in place and appropriate homework was assigned in all lessons evaluated. Homework and assessment practices in Physics are clearly set out in the subject plan. Leaving Certificate Physics students, on completion of the course, revise each topic with a weekly test incorporating previous examination questions. In this way, students develop good examination strategies.
Contact with parents is maximised throughout the year with parent-teacher meetings for each year group and with three reports sent to parents in early December, mid February and following the summer examinations. Formal examinations for third, fifth and sixth year take place in November, with pre-examinations for third and sixth-year students held in February. In addition, all first, second and fifth year students sit examinations in February and May.
Students receive credit in school assessments for the maintenance of their practical book. Records of practical work were maintained. However, in many cases, the quality could improve. Therefore, it is recommended that the completion of corrections in student notebooks is monitored and that students are given the responsibility of maintaining a high quality record of their work. Particular focus should be put on the recording of accurate results, calculations, experimental errors and precautions taken to improve accuracy.
Good support procedures are in place for students with additional needs. The learning support team, coordinated by a special duties teacher and advised by the guidance department, plays an active part in this process.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Science is a core subject at junior cycle and in TY. There is very good provision of science subjects for Leaving Certificate with Physics, Chemistry and Biology offered to students.
· TY students are encouraged to attend a variety of seminars on physics-related topics. Student participation in extra-curricular and out-of-school activities supports and strengthens
science provision in the school.
· A very good level of planning is in place to support junior science and senior Physics. The physics plan is comprehensive and addresses many aspects of subject provision.
· Students were enthusiastic and were motivated to learn and levels of participation in lessons were high. Student acquisition of knowledge was incremental and critical
thinking skills were promoted.
· Methodologies were varied and effective in contributing to the achievement of lesson objectives. Questions were probing and sufficiently challenging and had the effect of
consolidating student learning and building on students’ knowledge and understanding.
· The school has a comprehensive homework policy in place and appropriate homework was assigned in all lessons evaluated.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Sustained measures should be implemented to promote the increased uptake of Physics.
· Chemicals should be stored in line with best practice and Department guidelines.
· The physics plan should be developed to include action plans for the development of the subject. In addition, the scheme of work should be further expanded and developed.
· The completion of corrections in student notebooks should be monitored and students should be given the responsibility of maintaining a high quality record of their work.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teacher of Physics, together with the principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published February 2010