An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physics
Christian Brothers College
Monkstown Park, Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin
Roll number: 60180R
Date of inspection: 15 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Christian Brothers College, Monkstown Park, Dún Laoghaire. 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 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 teacher. 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.
Science is a core subject at Christian Brothers College, Monkstown Park with three class groups in first year and four class groups in second year and third year. Science class groups have a maximum of twenty-four students in second year, third year and in senior cycle with larger class sizes in first year.
Modules of Physics, Chemistry and Biology are offered as part of the optional Transition Year (TY) programme. Each module is offered for half the year by a subject specialist teacher. This is commended.
Science provision at senior cycle is good with Physics, Chemistry and Biology on offer. The uptake of Physics has remained very good over recent years with, for example, two class groups currently following the physics programme in fifth year and sixth year. However, only seven students have chosen Physics for the next academic year. This is extremely low in light of recent trends in uptake in the college and warrants further attention by senior management and the science department. While students are initially given a free choice of subjects for Leaving Certificate, subject bands have been produced for the next academic year in such a way that students may only choose one of Physics, Chemistry or Biology. It is recommended that this be reviewed. Students are supported in subject choice by the guidance department, subject teachers, an information evening for parents and students and by subject sampling in TY. It is recommended that further attention is given to Physics at junior cycle and in TY in an effort to ensure the future of the subject in the college.
Time allocation to Science at junior cycle and Physics at senior cycle is generally in line with syllabus requirements. However, the allocation of five single class periods to Physics in sixth year is poor practice in that it does not properly support an investigative approach to learning with considerable pressure to complete the vast majority of mandatory experiments in fifth year. Therefore, it is recommended that a double period be allocated to sixth-year physics in future years. In addition, laboratory access is sometimes restricted in that some double periods cannot be facilitated. Due to pressure on space, it is reported that the science laboratories are sometimes used by non-science classes. This situation is undesirable. It is recommended that a laboratory timetable be planned and drawn up in an effort to maximise use of science laboratories by science classes.
Continuous professional development (CPD) of science teachers is well supported by the college and in-service courses have been well attended by teachers. In-service training for the use of the recently purchased data logging equipment is currently planned. This is commended. The college provides financial support to teachers who wish to take up membership of a relevant professional body or subject association or to those who pursue relevant post-graduate study. Whole staff CPD is also well supported with, for example, input from Blackrock Education Centre and the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI).
There are three science laboratories in the college with a separate preparation and storage area. These old laboratories are maintained to a reasonable standard with equipment and resources stored in a neat and tidy fashion. It is acknowledged that a new college building project is planned and this will provide the opportunity to bring the laboratories up to modern standards.
The college’s health and safety statement was last reviewed in 2007. All staff are consulted in the process. This is commended. Laboratories have safety equipment including fire extinguishers, fire blankets and first aid kits. However, some issues need attention, particularly the provision of chemical storage facilities in line with best practice and Department guidelines and the provision of modern shut-off switches for gas and electricity.
While some information and communication technology (ICT) equipment is available in the science laboratories, including a ceiling-mounted data projector in one laboratory, it is recommended that the integration of existing ICT facilities be enhanced across the science department. All teachers have laptop computers and data logging equipment has been recently purchased. This is commended.
The physics department is in receipt of a small budget from the college in the current year. It is recommended that an inventory of equipment and resources be drawn up to ensure that sufficient equipment is available to carry out an extensive programme of practical activities.
Students have participated in some science related extra-curricular and out-of-school activities including the Conway laboratory placement at University College Dublin. In an effort to further draw students’ attention to the many competitions, projects and activities on offer, it is recommended that the school puts a dedicated science notice board in place in the college.
Senior management is committed to providing opportunities for collaborative subject planning. Formal subject meetings are convened normally on two occasions per term. A voluntary coordinator of Science is in place with the role including facilitation of department meetings. In addition, a science teacher is allocated specific laboratory duties with forty minutes per day allocated to these responsibilities.
A good Physics scheme of work for TY is in place. However, this scheme could be expanded to include further applied aspects of Physics. The template should be reviewed to include assessment, evaluation, methodologies and resources, with reference to Department TY guidelines on writing a TY subject plan. The Physics scheme of work for Leaving Certificate outlines syllabus topics covered in each of fifth year and sixth year. It is recommended that this scheme be expanded and incorporated into a physics plan to include subject aims, objectives, assessment practices, methodologies and resources. In addition, areas such as the uptake of Physics should be monitored in this plan and measures to address the promotion of the subject into the future should be included. Long-term action plans should be drawn up with a view to maximising the use of available resources. Reference should be made to the website of the SDPI (www.sdpi.ie).
Preparation and planning for lessons observed was very good, with the well planned content and delivery of lessons clearly in evidence in the course of the evaluation. Teaching resources and practical equipment were ready in advance.
The majority of lessons evaluated were of a revision nature as was appropriate to the time of year. Students were focused on assignments and practical tasks. Concepts, experimental techniques and key skills were consolidated and this had the effect of giving students confidence as the examinations approached.
A very good atmosphere for learning prevailed in all lessons visited. A good rapport was established and students were frequently affirmed in their work and received individual support as necessary. Students were generally made aware of learning objectives and were motivated and interested in the lesson material.
Practical work was the focus of some lessons evaluated. In one lesson, students carried out an experiment to measure the resistivity of nichrome wire. This was done as a revision exercise in preparation for the summer examinations. Mathematical concepts were clearly explained with the aid of the board while at the same time making use of focused probing questions. Group work proceeded and students successfully carried out the assigned task. A homework assignment was given in the form of a previous Leaving Certificate practical question. However, a focused worksheet to consolidate learning would have been more appropriate while students carried out this revision task. In another lesson visited TY students were introduced to transistors with the aid of a handout. The board was used expertly to focus key words, symbols and concepts. Transistor circuits were investigated as a practical exercise. There was excellent lesson progression and development with students being encouraged and supported to undertake various practical tasks. It is suggested that the use of circuit boards may have streamlined the learning process and that initial concept development would have been enhanced with the use of appropriate ICT resources.
Sixth year students received their ‘mock’ examination papers during a lesson visited in the course of the inspection. There was very good annotation and feedback to students on their achievements. Many students achieved to a very high standard in these examinations. Students were also given comprehensive advice and support regarding the forthcoming Leaving Certificate examination in Physics. This advice was summarised with the aid of a handout which included an analysis of previous examination papers. This level of support is highly commended.
Questioning was used very effectively. Questions were probing and sufficiently challenging and had the effect of consolidating student learning. Students were generally very confident at answering questions on their work in the course of the evaluation.
The uptake of Physics at higher-level is very good and has been consistently very good over recent years. The number of students who achieve a higher-level grade in Physics is also very high. In addition, student achievement in junior science is very high with the vast majority of students taking higher level.
Formal examinations take place at Christmas and summer with reports sent to parents. An optional ‘mock’ examination is held for sixth year students during the February mid-term break. Contact with parents is ongoing through the student journal, school reports, information meetings and parent-teacher meetings.
The school has a good homework policy in place. Homework was assigned as appropriate in some lessons evaluated. It is recommended that a homework and assessment policy for Physics be developed.
Assignments and other student work examined in the course of the evaluation were generally completed to a good standard with frequent teacher monitoring and annotation. It is commendable that students’ records of practical work are checked. These records were maintained to a good standard by some students. However, the standard and quality of work recorded by many students needs improvement. Therefore, it is recommended that when the quality of this work is checked, students are given the responsibility of maintaining a high quality record of their work. It is commendable that credit is given in school assessments for practical assignments.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Science is a core subject and there is good senior cycle science provision in TY and in fifth and sixth-year with classes in Physics, Chemistry and Biology.
· Continuous professional development of science teachers is well supported by the college.
· Senior management is committed to providing opportunities for collaborative subject planning.
· Preparation and planning for lessons observed was very good. Practical equipment, ICT and teaching resources were ready in advance.
· A very good atmosphere for learning prevailed in all lessons visited. Students were affirmed in their work and were interested and motivated. The quality of teaching observed was good. Questioning was used very effectively.
· The assignments examined were generally completed to a good standard with frequent teacher monitoring and annotation.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Subject banding should be reviewed so that students may choose more than one science subject at senior cycle. Further attention should be given to Physics at junior cycle and in TY in an effort to ensure the future of the subject in the college.
· Sixth-year physics classes should be timetabled for a double period each week.
· A laboratory timetable should be drawn up in an effort to improve laboratory access.
· Chemical storage facilities in line with best practice should be provided and modern safety switches for gas and electricity should be installed in the laboratories.
· The integration of ICT into teaching and learning should be enhanced across the science department.
· A dedicated science notice board should be put in place in an effort to enhance student involvement in extra-curricular activities.
· The physics schemes of work should be expanded and developed into a comprehensive physics plan.
· Students should be given the responsibility of maintaining a high quality laboratory notebook.
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 December 2008