An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Physics
Notre Dame Des Missiones Secondary School
Upper Churchtown Road, Dublin 14
Roll number: 60160L
Date of inspection: 24 and 25 February 2009
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN SCIENCE AND PHYSICS
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Notre Dame Des Missiones Secondary School, Churchtown. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science and Physics 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 of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Notre Dame School offers Science as a core subject in first year. In second year, students are offered an open choice of optional subjects including Science. Option blocks are formed from which Science may be chosen. In the current year, eighty-two percent of second-year students have chosen Science, while sixty-seven percent of third-year students will take Science for the Junior Certificate. The school policy of allowing students who have not taken Science for Junior Certificate to take up a senior science subject for Leaving Certificate is a matter for concern. It is therefore recommended that the uptake of Science in second year is carefully monitored in order to ensure that students who may wish to study any of the science subjects at senior cycle choose Science for the Junior Certificate. Students and parents should receive additional support on subject choice at the end of first year. This should help to achieve the school’s laudable objective of encouraging every senior student to take a science subject.
There are two mixed-ability class groups for Science in each year of junior cycle and the school is commended in its efforts to keep class groups small in the interests of effective student participation in practical activities. Continuity of teaching and learning is maintained in that class groups generally retain the same teacher throughout junior cycle.
Science provision in Transition Year (TY) includes modules in Biology and Chemistry focusing on many applied aspects of these subjects including forensics, genetics and DNA. The content of these courses is in line with Department TY guidelines. However, in the interests of curricular balance and the small number of students choosing Physics for Leaving Certificate, it is recommended that a Physics module be included in the school’s TY programme. All modules should be structured and planned in line with Department guidelines on writing the TY programme.
There is very good science provision at senior cycle with Physics, Chemistry and Biology offered each year. Senior students who have chosen science subjects provide useful insights and supports to TY students in making an informed choice. In addition, guest speakers are invited to address students and this provision within TY is very praiseworthy.
Time allocation to Science in second-year and third-year and to Science subjects at senior cycle is satisfactory. However, time allocation to Science in first-year is one class period short of syllabus recommendations and it is recommended that this time deficit be rectified.
There are five teachers in the science department in the school. Teachers are well supported in attending in-service courses and in following relevant continuous professional development (CPD) courses. Teachers are well deployed according to their qualifications and subject specialisms. The distribution of class periods across the week is good.
Two well-equipped laboratories are in operation in the school. Laboratories are well maintained with equipment stored in an orderly manner in the storage presses provided. In addition, the laboratories are enhanced with many relevant posters and charts and students’ work is also on display. One of the laboratories has a preparation and storage room.
There is a health and safety policy for Science in place with the most recent review in early 2008. There are good health and safety practices in the science laboratories as evidenced in the course of the evaluation. Safety equipment was in evidence and laboratory rules are on display in each laboratory. There are some good practices already in place for chemical storage. However, it is recommended that an upgrade of chemical storage practice and facilities be implemented in line with Department guidelines.
Good information and communications technology (ICT) facilities have been provided in the science laboratories. These laboratories have been provided with laptop computers, data-projectors and data logging equipment, and are networked to the school’s internet facilities. This is commended and provides a valuable teaching resource.
Students are encouraged to partake in a number of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities including participation in the BT Young Scientists’ Competition, Science Week activities and science quizzes. Students visit the Conway Institute at University College Dublin for lectures on science-related issues and a range of science speakers address TY students. Senior students attend a range of seminars and lectures on engineering and medicine. The teachers of Science demonstrate a proven commitment of these important activities.
Formal science department planning meetings are convened at the beginning of the school year and on two to three occasions per term on Wednesday afternoons during the school’s weekly meeting slot. Meetings are minuted and evidence provided in the course of the evaluation confirms that many relevant issues relating to the science department are discussed at these meetings. The science team also meets informally on an ongoing basis. Coordination of Science is on a voluntary rotating basis with agreed duties including the chairing of meetings, distribution of correspondence and facilitation of the development plan for Science.
A very good, collaborative and comprehensive science plan was made available in the course of the evaluation. The plan outlines in detail current science provision in the school. Many areas are addressed including; assessment, record keeping, effective teaching methodologies, planning for students with special needs, resources, CPD, health and safety, cross-curricular planning and examination results analysis. Similar issues are addressed in the physics plan, which is also comprehensive. Teachers demonstrated excellent commitment in drawing up these plans. Schemes of work for each year group are detailed in the plan, outlining the topics to be taught to each year group in the course of the year. It is recommended that the topics in these schemes be explicitly linked to teaching strategies, methodologies, resources and assessment. Very good and well-organised resource folders were in evidence in the course of the evaluation. In addition, a science department reference library is in place and is well maintained.
There was very effective individual planning in evidence in advance of all lessons observed. Practical and ICT equipment were set up and ready to use. Lesson content was well planned which led to successful learning outcomes as evidenced during the evaluation.
The quality of teaching was very good. Lesson objectives were shared with students at the outset and lessons had a clear structure concluding with a concise plenary session. Students were active in their learning and motivation and interest were maintained throughout. The very good atmosphere and positive classroom rapport supported student learning and led to very successful learning outcomes. Student learning was incrementally built up and continuously reinforced. Individual and group support was given as necessary and students tackled the assigned tasks with confidence and enthusiasm. Affirmation of students was evident in all lessons and this consolidated the positive atmosphere and led to high levels of participation.
Methodologies were varied and effective with use of practical work, practical demonstrations, models and ICT across many lessons. The board was used effectively to highlight key words, diagrams and ideas and as an aid to focus lesson material. During one lesson observed, the board was used as an effective and useful aid to teach ionic and covalent bonding. An incremental picture was built up with students encouraged to take notes and to ask questions to clarify their understanding. Students’ knowledge was reinforced with an appropriate assignment. In another lesson observed, students were learning about genes and human characteristics. ICT was expertly and appropriately used to teach elements of this topic, as was the use of models, the board and the provision of a good worksheet. This practice should be extended to all appropriate lessons. Students carried out an investigation on fingerprint analysis and successfully identified their fingerprint type. The results were compared with norms in each category. This sequential build up of a new learning experience at an appropriate pace is highly commended. In some lessons, where a new topic is being introduced, it is recommended that students be set a research task in advance so that knowledge can be gathered from students in advance of teacher presentation.
There was effective use of questioning in most lessons observed. Questioning was used as an ongoing learning strategy. Interest was heightened in many instances by the use of probing questions. Students exhibited good confidence in answering questions on their work during the lessons observed and student outcomes in terms of skills and knowledge as observed were very good. However, in some cases, when questions were posed, students were not given sufficient time to answer appropriately. This restricted student interaction. Therefore, it is recommended that maximum benefit be achieved from class questioning by pacing the lesson appropriately.
Practical investigations formed the core of some lessons. Students carried out an investigation on the measurement of the specific latent heat of fusion of ice during one lesson visited. The board was used expertly as an aid to introduce the topic with very good emphasis on precautions, possible errors and units. Very clear explanations of the concepts and very concise student answers to probing questions all consolidated learning. Students worked in small groups and successfully achieved the desired outcomes. Very good practical techniques were in place and students applied themselves expertly to the mathematical problem-solving tasks. Critical thinking skills were encouraged, especially as students received individual help and support. During another lesson observed, students were prepared for the task of dissecting a sheep’s heart. Models of the human heart and the human torso were used to reinforce learning in advance of this task. The task was well-organised with a brief teacher demonstration in advance of student work. Teachers are commended in conducting practical work in a safe and supportive environment. However, it is recommended that all tasks be given sufficient time to support a student investigative approach to learning.
Science and Physics were made relevant to everyday life in many lessons. For example, lung diseases such as asthma and bronchitis were discussed in a lesson on the respiratory system. Opportunities presented themselves in other lessons to link lesson content to everyday applications and these opportunities were not always availed of. It is recommended that the practice of making Science and Physics relevant to everyday life be extended, where possible.
Academic student achievement is excellent. The uptake of higher-level for Science and Physics is very good and the proportion of students receiving a high grade in these subjects is also very good and grades have remained consistently high.
There is a school assessment policy and homework policy in place and there is clear emphasis on regular homework, class testing and revision. This was evident in the course of the evaluation and is very good. Third and sixth year classes sit pre-examinations in February. Formal examinations take place at Christmas and summer for all other class groups. TY students are continuously assessed on project work. Common tests are planned for first-year and second-year students. Teachers maintain very good records of student assessments and attendance. A parent-teacher meeting is held annually for each year group. Reports are sent to parents on two occasions each year. Communication with parents is ongoing in many ways including open evenings and information nights and through the school homework journal.
Students with additional needs are well supported with close liaison between science teachers, parents, school management, the learning support and guidance departments. Additional supports include; differentiation of the curriculum, oral work, paired work, group work and correction of homework. Students receive language support in small groups with good links between the English as a second language (ESL) teacher and the science department.
Practical notebooks examined in the course of the evaluation were generally of a high standard. The quality of teacher comment and annotation was high overall. In an effort to further improve the quality of students’ written practical records, it is recommended that notebooks are further monitored to ensure that students take full cognisance of teachers’ annotation.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is very good science provision at senior cycle with Physics, Chemistry and Biology offered each year.
· Teachers are well deployed and distribution of class periods across the week is good.
· A very good, collaborative and comprehensive science and physics plan was made available in the course of the evaluation. Science department planning meetings are
convened regularly. Science coordination is effective. There was very effective individual planning in evidence in advance of lessons observed.
· Students were active in their learning and motivation and interest were maintained throughout. The very good atmosphere and positive classroom rapport supported
student learning and led to very successful learning outcomes.
· Assessment practices are good with collaborative planning in place regarding examinations. Practical notebooks examined in the course of the evaluation were of a high standard.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The uptake of Science in second year should be carefully monitored with students and parents receiving additional support on subject choice in first year.
· A Physics module should be included in the school’s TY programme in the interests of curricular balance. All modules should be structured and planned in line with Department
guidelines on writing the TY programme.
· An upgrade of chemical storage practices and facilities should be implemented in line with best practice and Department guidelines.
· Practical notebooks should be further monitored to ensure that students take full cognisance of teachers’ annotation.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Science and 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 March 2010