An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physics
Templeville Road, Dublin 6W
Roll number: 60562I
Date of inspection: 10 October 2008
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN PHYSICS
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Templeogue College. 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; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Science is a core subject at Templeogue College. Classes are mixed ability and generally have a maximum of twenty-four students. Classes generally retain the same teacher throughout junior or senior cycle.
Physics, Electronics, Chemistry and Forensic Science modules are offered as part of the compulsory Transition Year (TY) programme. Each module continues for eight weeks and is taught for three class periods each week. Subject sampling together with applied aspects of the subject form part of each programme. The emphasis in the TY programme is on the physical sciences with some aspects of Biology introduced into the Forensic Science module.
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 and Chemistry and three class groups in Biology in fifth year and sixth year. The uptake of Physics has increased over recent years. This is an encouraging development. Subject choice is well supported with input from subject specialist teachers, guidance provision and consultation with parents including a parents’ information evening. Continuous professional development (CPD) is well supported by school management with teachers being facilitated in attending relevant in-service courses.
Time allocation to Science at junior cycle and 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, three of which are located adjacent to each other. Each laboratory has an adjoining preparation and storage area. Chemicals are stored in a separate facility. Information and communication technology (ICT) facilities in each laboratory have been enhanced with the provision of ceiling-mounted data projectors, laptop computers and broadband internet access. Laboratories were very well maintained and equipment was stored in an orderly fashion. 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 school’s health and safety statement was reviewed in the current year and is reviewed annually. It is commendable that modern gas cut-off switches will be installed in laboratories in the current year following a recent health and safety audit.
Student participation in extra-curricular and out-of-school activities includes participation in the BT Young Scientists Competition and Science Week activities. The school is currently involved in a seismology project organised by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. TY students have visited the European Space Centre in Belgium in recent years and some students also participate in the Transition Year Physics Education Programme in Trinity College Dublin. The involvement of students in these activities is highly commended.
A very good level of planning is in place to support junior science and senior Physics and current subject plans are in place for Science and Physics. The physics plan is comprehensive and addresses many aspects of subject provision including resources, methodologies, record-keeping and assessment procedures. It is recommended that the physics scheme of work links various topics to the syllabus rather than to textbook chapters. A very good plan is in place for TY physics. The inclusion of a student project and many applied aspects of the subject plays a major part in ensuring that activity-based learning is promoted in line with Department TY programme guidelines. This is highly commended. It is recommended that the TY physics programme be further developed in line with Department guidelines on writing the TY programme with inbuilt evaluation procedures clearly outlined. A very good collaborative junior science plan and scheme of work was made available in the course of the evaluation. This plan is commended.
The level of individual teacher planning was very good and is highly commended. Folders of resources include magazine and newspaper articles, revision sheets and notes and protocols on writing experiment reports. A good physics library is maintained in the physics laboratory with a loan scheme for students. This is highly commended. Laboratory equipment is very well organised for ease of access and for classroom use. ICT resources have been collated into customised folders on the laboratory computer. This work is ongoing with teachers collaborating in the acquisition of ICT resources for junior science.
A science subject co-ordinator is in place and this position is currently part of an assistant principal (AP) post. While duties are carried out effectively, it is suggested that the position of convenor of science be rotated annually. In this way, each member of the science department may avail of the opportunity and experience of some department coordination duties. The current school calendar confirms the regularity of time periods made available by school management for curriculum planning. Formal department meetings take place once per term with many informal meetings scheduled as the need arises. Minutes of these meetings provide evidence of the extent of collaborative planning and the sharing of ideas. It is highly commended that good junior science planning in collaboration with school management has been instrumental in fulfilling recommendations of a previous science inspection report.
Teachers were very well prepared for the lessons observed. ICT and practical equipment were ready and set up in advance and resources including handouts had been pre-prepared. The content and delivery of lessons was very well planned. This is highly commended.
The very good atmosphere created in all lessons visited supported student learning. Students were enthusiastic and motivated to learn. Levels of participation in lessons were high. The very good rapport enhanced student learning. Active learning was encouraged with a discovery-led approach playing a prominent part in some lessons. The affirmative environment ensured that students felt valued and supported. Support was given to students as a class group, in smaller working groups and to individuals. The differentiated approach to learning adopted by teachers is highly commended.
Methodologies were varied and effective in contributing to the achievement of lesson objectives. The board was used to highlight key concepts and as an aid to the explanation of mathematical concepts and this methodology consolidated problem-solving skills. There was an example where the theme of the lesson was pressure in liquids. Everyday applications and examples of the concepts played a key role in students’ understanding. Feedback from challenging questions ensured that the lesson pace was appropriate. Student acquisition of knowledge was incremental and was supported with clear explanations of key concepts. Students worked in small groups, were set a challenging task and were expertly guided by teachers through a process of discovery. A well-designed worksheet ensured that there was good progress in student learning. ICT was used appropriately as an effective methodology in the delivery of some lessons. There was an example where a well-designed presentation supported active learning and successful outcomes. It is recommended that the use of ICT be further explored in the delivery of lessons and as an aid to setting out lesson objectives and plenary sessions.
Student practical work took place in all lessons evaluated. However, on one occasion, where students worked in groups and were carrying out an experiment from a planned rota, the sizes of the groups were too large. It is recommended that in order for all students to achieve ‘hands on’ experience of practical work, that groups be limited to not more than three students. There was good emphasis on health and safety in that safety glasses were worn as appropriate. The significant level of pre-planning and preparation contributed to successful outcomes for students. Students exhibited very good knowledge in the use of the practical apparatus and all groups achieved desired results. A good handout contributed to focusing students on the assigned task. Students had generally grasped a good knowledge of the theory and the practical errors for each experiment. It is recommended, however, that due to the diversity of tasks across the groups, that students are encouraged to research their designated practical task in advance of undertaking it, with a clear emphasis on theory, possible errors and precautions. In another lesson, students carried out the task of making a quadrant in order to be able to measure the height of distant objects. Each group carried out this assignment successfully and with enthusiasm. Students were enabled to discover for themselves the possible errors and conclusions of the task in hand. This investigative approach is highly commended as it supports learning by discovery and empowers students with enthusiasm and motivation for the subject. Practical demonstrations were used to good effect in some lessons observed. There was an example of a lesson on the theme of pressure where hydrometers were used to link the concepts taught to everyday applications.
Questioning was used effectively. Questions were probing and sufficiently challenging and had the effect of consolidating student learning and building on students’ knowledge and understanding. Students were generally very confident at answering questions on their work and many demonstrated good problem solving skills as evidenced in the course of the evaluation.
The uptake of higher-level Physics is very good and has increased over recent years, as has the uptake of junior Science at higher level. Student achievement at both junior and senior cycle is also very good with a large proportion of students achieving ABC grades at higher-level. The cohort of students who choose to opt for ordinary level physics is also very well supported and these students have achieved very successful outcomes at this level over recent years.
Reports are sent to parents following examinations at mid-term, Christmas, Easter and summer. In addition, ongoing end-of-topic examinations take place. Parents are also kept well informed of student progress through the annual parent-teacher meetings. TY students are assigned sixty percent of their overall grade for a research project assignment with the remainder allocated to ongoing assessment. Group projects are organised in such a way that students are required to make a presentation of their work. This is commended.
Revision forms a central part of assessment for the physics department. Pre-examination revision work form part of physics planning. Revision worksheets are assigned to students at appropriate intervals and are handed up for correction and annotation as evidenced in the course of the evaluation. This is highly commended. Homework is regularly assigned to students in line with the school’s homework policy.
There is very good annotation of students’ practical notebooks on an ongoing basis. Each report is graded before the student commences the next assignment. This is commended. Records of practical work were generally maintained to a good standard, however, in some 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. Students receive credit in school assessments for the maintenance of their practical book. This practice is commended.
Good support procedures are in place for students with additional needs. The college’s deans meet with class teachers regarding additional support for students. The guidance department plays an active part in this process and strong links have been forged with the learning support and resource department.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Science is a core subject at junior cycle and applied modules of Science form part of TY. Physics, Chemistry and Biology are offered as senior cycle subjects.
· The uptake of Physics has increased over recent years.
· Many issues outlined in a previous science inspection report have been successfully addressed.
· A very comprehensive physics plan and collaborative junior science plan are in place. The content of the TY physics programme supports activity-based learning.
· Planning for lessons observed was very effective.
· Methodologies were varied and effective in contributing to the achievement of lesson objectives. Student acquisition of knowledge was incremental and was
supported with clear explanations of key concepts. Active learning was encouraged.
· Students were enthusiastic and motivated to learn. An affirmative environment ensured that students were valued and supported.
· Very good assessment procedures have been developed and were in evidence during the evaluation.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The TY physics programme should be further developed in line with Department guidelines.
· The physics scheme of work should link the various topics to the syllabus.
· The use of ICT should be further explored in the delivery of lessons and as an aid to setting out lesson objectives and plenary sessions as appropriate.
· Practical working groups should be limited in size in order for all students to achieve appropriate ‘hands on’ experience.
· Students should be encouraged to research their designated practical tasks in advance of undertaking it, with a clear emphasis on theory, possible errors and precautions.
· 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 May 2009