An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Biology
Ardscoil La Salle
Raheny Road, Raheny, Dublin 5
Roll number: 60291D
Date of inspection: 17 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Biology
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ardscoil La Salle, Raheny. 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; a response was not received from the board.
Whole-school support for the provision of Science and Biology in Ardscoil La Salle, Raheny is good. A wide range of science subjects is available on the curriculum. This includes Science as a core subject for Junior Certificate, three science modules in the Transition Year programme (TY) and Leaving Certificate Biology, Physics and Chemistry. Normally, there is one class group of Biology, one of Physics and one of Chemistry in each of the two Leaving Certificate years. The fact that the school sustains three senior cycle science subjects, with viable numbers, on the curriculum is testimony to the commitment of school management and the science department. The TY programme is optional in the school and it is commendable that students are given the opportunity to study each of the three scientific disciplines. This allows students the opportunity of sampling the subjects in senior cycle before making choices for Leaving Certificate.
The timetabling arrangements and time allocated for the subjects are in line with National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) recommendations. All class groups are scheduled for laboratory access for at least one double period per week. Classes generally retain the same teacher as they progress through a cycle, at both junior and senior level, and this is commendable.
The four science laboratories in the school have recently been refurbished and they are bright, clean and well maintained. Ongoing problems with the plumbing in one of the laboratories have resulted in some sinks becoming blocked during practical work. As a result these are unusable during practical activities and this restricts the number of workstations available to the students. During the evaluation it was reported that management is investigating how this can be rectified. It is recommended that this be given priority. All laboratories have a separate preparation and storage area. Chemicals are stored in locked cabinets. In many of the preparation areas the sets of apparatus have been organised into labelled resource boxes. This is good practice. Commendably, the laboratories have separate storage cabinets for toxics and flammables. Since moving into the refurbished laboratories, there has been ongoing development of laboratory equipment and facilities; the contribution of school management and the teachers involved to this work deserves particular acknowledgement.
The school has a health and safety statement which was reviewed in 2003. In light of the recent refurbishments to the four science laboratories it is recommended that the health and safety statement be reviewed. All laboratories contain a number of health and safety features including first aid kits, fire blankets, fire extinguishers and safety goggles. In addition, all laboratories contain an accident report book. A code of conduct was displayed in many of the laboratories visited. This is commendable. It is recommended that the science team compiles a code of conduct for the laboratories. Teachers have availed of continuing professional development (CPD) and this is supported by management. All science teachers in the school have attended in-service training for the revised science and biology syllabuses.
The science team developed a common plan for Junior Certificate Science in March 2007 although a degree of collaborative work had been ongoing between many members of the science team prior to that date. Commendably, the plan contains an agreed list of topics for each year group and the science team has discussed and decided upon the sequencing of topics. It was reported that the members of the science team are documenting their individual methodologies this year with a view to linking the list of topics to appropriate learning objectives. This is commendable and it will form the basis of a common scheme of work for the department. At the next planning meeting it is recommended that the science team should discuss how the scheme of work for the science department can best be progressed.
Planning documentation for Leaving Certificate Biology was also made available. This consisted of a scheme of work which outlined the topics to be completed during each of the two years of the programme. It is commendable that the scheme also contained a suitable time frame for each topic. Resources for senior cycle biology are kept in a filing cabinet. The resources, which are arranged according to the syllabus topics, include newspaper clippings, magazines, worksheets and other photocopied materials. One member of the science team has also developed a Moodle site on which a variety of resources is available for both Junior Certificate Science and the science subjects in senior cycle. This is good practice.
The science department is currently co-ordinated by a team member on a voluntary basis. This level of commitment is commendable. In order to ensure equity of workload and to ensure that responsibility is shared among the science team, it is recommended that the position of co-ordinator be rotated among members of the science department on an annual basis. This would also assist in promoting leadership and retaining expertise within the science department.
A planning meeting of the science team is held at the beginning and end of each year. There is also regular, informal contact between members throughout the year. Co-operative work practices take place between the teachers of Science and Biology and there is ongoing sharing of teaching resources. A range of modern information and communication technology (ICT) resources, including laptops, PCs and data projectors is available in the laboratories. Broadband internet access is available in the school as an additional support for lesson preparation. The science department also has access to an interactive whiteboard. One member of the team has given other members some initial training in the use of the interactive whiteboard. It is recommended that the use of the whiteboard as a resource be developed in the future to enhance the teaching and learning of science in the school.
The science team makes good use of useful visual and learning materials available electronically. These include the resources available on the websites of the support services for both Biology (www.biology.slss.ie) and Science (www.juniorscience.ie). The science team also makes use of science magazines such as Science plus, newspapers, worksheets, crosswords and quizzes to enhance the quality of teaching and learning of science. These activities play an important role in keeping teachers up to date on developments in their subject areas.
In the majority of lessons there was evidence of considered and effective planning. Good practice was observed where the aims of the lesson were outlined to the students at the outset and there was careful prior organisation of resources including materials for practical work. In most cases the lesson content was linked to a previous lesson. Best practice was observed where teachers used discussion to encourage and motivate students.
Teachers, in general, maintained discipline in a sensitive manner and where this was observed it resulted in a good rapport between students and their teacher. Students were addressed by name and teachers adopted an informal style when interacting with them. In most lessons, there was a high level of enthusiasm among students to volunteer answers and to participate in lesson activities. This enthusiasm was encouraged by the teacher and contributed to the positive learning environment. However, in one lesson, where students were passive and less interaction took place, the classroom atmosphere was not as conducive to learning.
Effective use was made of a range of relevant resources including PowerPoint presentations, worksheets, models, wall charts, diagrams and the whiteboard to enhance teaching and consolidate learning. Lesson structure was generally supportive of students’ learning and took cognisance of students’ previous knowledge and levels. In one instance, in order to facilitate optimal student learning, it was recommended that short inputs of whole-class teaching to introduce the lesson, demonstrate best use of apparatus and provide occasional summary be included.
The majority of lessons observed provided for the inclusion of a range of methodologies in the delivery of lesson content, many of which called on the active participation of students. This included the use of quiz, investigative practical work, worksheet activity, pair work and group work. The use of a variety of methodologies generally serves to encourage student participation and it is recommended that this good practice be extended to all lessons. The instruction provided to students was generally clear and concise. In the majority of classes students were engaged in their learning. They listened attentively to their teachers, responded to questions, asked questions, performed experimental work, and completed written exercises. This interactive approach is good practice and it is recommended that this approach be extended across all lessons where practicable.
Students’ performance of experimental work was carried out safely and students displayed good practical skills. This demonstrated that students are developing team-working skills through the performance of experimental work. In one lesson there was scope to preface the activity with a whole-class discussion. This would allow students, who worked together on the task, discuss their procedure before starting the practical activity. Best practice was observed where students displayed established routines for setting up and tidying up after their work. These established routines help students to gain a sense of responsibility for the efficient conduct of experimental work and should be extended to all lessons.
A range of assessment techniques is used in Ardscoil La Salle. These include formal examinations at Christmas and summer for first year, second year, fifth year and TY students as well as mock exams for the certificate examination students. Regular class tests and end-of-topic tests are also administered. It is good practice that the science department has recently introduced common end-of-year tests. Commendably, some members of the science team have discussed how best to incorporate coursework into the end-of-year exam. It is recommended that a percentage of the final mark be allocated to coursework in order to mirror the coursework section of the revised Junior Certificate science syllabus.
Samples of students’ work were available in the majority of lessons visited. These samples showed that homework is a regular feature of students’ learning in most lessons, is corrected and monitored regularly by the students’ teachers. This is best practice and is commended. In order to help consolidate the learning process it is important that students be encouraged to follow up on corrections made by their teachers. It is recommended that the science department explores how follow-up on corrections can best be encouraged. In one certificate examination class, a high proportion of students had not brought in their exercise books on the day of the inspection. Those copybooks that were observed in that particular class showed no evidence of checking or annotation by the teacher. It is recommended that student work in copybooks be regularly monitored by all teachers. It is important that students be encouraged to take responsibility for their own copybooks as a method of promoting the learning process. It is recommended that teachers emphasise the need for students to bring their books to science class on a regular basis.
Teachers generally maintain good records of student attendance, completion of homework exercises and test results. In some instances, records contained a seating plan, the class averages had been calculated and reference was made to students with specific educational needs. This level of record keeping is praiseworthy. Parents are kept informed of students’ progress through the student journal, examination reports, parent-teacher meetings and meetings with individual parents as necessary.
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.