An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science
Mercy Secondary School
Goldenbridge, Inchicore, Dublin 8
Roll number: 60872A
Date of inspection: 1 December 2008
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN SCIENCE
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mercy Secondary School, Goldenbridge, Inchicore. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science 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, deputy 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; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Mercy Secondary School has an enrolment of 181 girls and Science is offered to students as an optional subject. Prior to entry to the school, incoming first years make their subject choices and in the current year, students may choose between Science and Home Economics. In the interests of students making a more informed choice for the Junior Certificate and in an effort to increase the uptake of Science, it is recommended that a ‘taster’ programme be introduced. One small mixed-ability class group for Science currently exists in first year, second year and third year.
Science is a core subject in the Transition Year (TY) programme. The programme is divided between laboratory techniques, photography, horticulture and scientific literacy. The skill set to be developed in the school’s TY programme is in line with Department guidelines. This is commended.
Biology and Chemistry are offered as Leaving Certificate options, however, Chemistry does not form part of the current curriculum as sufficient numbers of students have not chosen this subject to make it a viable option in the current year. An increased uptake of Science at junior cycle may help to alleviate this matter for future years. One small biology class group currently exists in fifth and sixth year. In addition, the school offers Horticulture as a Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) elective course. Students are well supported at senior cycle in making an informed choice with input from the guidance counsellor, specialist input from the science department and good support from school management.
Weekly time allocation to Science at junior cycle is one double and two single class periods. TY science is allocated two class periods and Biology at senior cycle is allocated one double and three single class periods per week. This time provision is in line with syllabus requirements and is satisfactory. There is good deployment of the qualified teachers of Science and the distribution of class periods across the week provides for regular contact with the subject.
Senior management supports attendance of science teachers at in-service courses and ongoing continuous professional development (CPD). For example, attendance and participation in Junior Science Support Service and Discover Sensors courses have been supported in recent years.
The school’s science laboratory is very well maintained with equipment stored in an orderly and safe manner. The laboratory has an adjacent preparation and storage room. In addition, the laboratories are enhanced with many relevant models, posters and charts and students’ work is also on display.
The school’s health and safety policy dates to 2006 and it is recommended that the planned review is now undertaken and that the policy be updated. It is commendable that a safety audit was carried out in the science laboratory in the current year and many suggested improvements have been implemented. In addition to the improvements identified, a ventilation facility should be incorporated into the chemical storage room, the gas cut-off valve should be upgraded in line with best practice and the fire exit door from the laboratory preparation room should incorporate an opening mechanism on the interior in the interests of safety.
Good information and communications technology (ICT) facilities have been provided in the laboratory. A laptop computer, data projector and data logging equipment are available, with access to broadband facilities. The school computer room is also available. These facilities are well utilised in the delivery of science education.
Students are encouraged to partake in a number of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. These include participation in and visiting the BT Young Scientists’ Competition, the organisation of science open day for the local primary school during Science Week, and participation in the Tyndall Institute photography competition. It is commendable that many science promotional activities are now taking place and that the school has implemented this recommendation as a result of the science inspection report of 2003. A science fun day for parents is planned for the future and this is commended.
A very good science plan is in place. The provision for Science is clearly outlined with details on many areas, including health and safety, resources and assessment procedures. The scheme of work for Science references each topic to the relevant syllabus section and indicates the number of classes planned for each section of the course on a term by term basis for each year of junior cycle. It is recommended that this plan be further developed to include the development of Science over coming years. This may include monitoring the uptake of the subject, the further promotion of Science to students and parents and the planning of Science for students of the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP). A very good TY plan for Science is in place as outlined earlier.
Science is very effectively coordinated and coordination duties include updating the science plan, responsibility for laboratory maintenance, restocking, and promotion of Science. Evidence was provided in the course of the evaluation that science provision is reviewed on an ongoing basis.
There was very effective planning in evidence in advance of lessons observed. Practical and ICT equipment and resources including data logging 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 and student learning was high in all lessons evaluated. A very good classroom atmosphere for learning was maintained in all lessons and the pace was appropriate. Student-teacher and student-student relationships were good and the short clear teacher inputs supported active learning by students. Individual support was given to students who needed extra help and this methodology was particularly appropriate in the mixed-ability setting.
There was a clear structure to all lessons and, in the main, student learning was incrementally built up and reinforced. 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. This is highly commended. Many lessons observed opened with the sharing of learning objectives and concluded with a very good plenary session. This is commended as it reinforces learning. It is recommended that the good practice of sharing learning objectives be extended across all lessons.
Methodologies were varied and this lead to effective student learning. ICT was also used in an innovative way when appropriate. It is recommended that when ICT is used that its effectiveness in lessons be analysed and reviewed. In one lesson observed, the board was used to focus student learning and to progressively build up a diagram of the human heart. An animation of blood flow through the heart followed and students were constantly challenged to suggest solutions to problems posed. Many references were made to everyday life applications of Science, for example, reference was made to heart transplants and other aspects of heart surgery. The incremental development of skills, student progress in learning and reinforcement of knowledge are highly commended. The further use of worksheets should be implemented to consolidate learning where appropriate. Use of the board to highlight key words, draw diagrams and to develop concepts was particularly effective in lessons visited.
Students conducted practical investigations in a safe environment and worked in small discrete groups. They were reminded by teachers to wear lab coats and safety glasses, when necessary. In one lesson observed, students were investigating electrical conduction in ionic and covalent compounds. Students commenced the investigation following a very clear explanation of the experimental set up and technique. All groups were successful at achieving the desired results with any difficulties arising discussed as a whole class. It is recommended that the discovery-led approach to learning be further developed to include prediction of desired experimental outcomes.
Data logging equipment was particularly well utilised to support student learning in one lesson observed. Students were actively involved in learning and enjoyed the learning process. This is highly commended. A motion sensor, data logger, computer and data projector were used to collect data and present graphs. Students individually moved at different speeds in front of the motion sensor and each graph was analysed to measure velocity. Students manually recorded their results and constructed an accurate graph on graph paper. As a consequence, students exhibited a very good knowledge of graphs, graph drawing and analysis and this is highly commended.
Interest was heightened in many instances by the use of probing questions. Questioning was used as an ongoing learning and teaching strategy. 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.
Academic student achievement is very good. The uptake of higher-level science has increased and the proportion of students receiving a good grade in this subject is high.
Very good records of student assessments and attendance are maintained. Students are tested on completion of each section of the course. First year and second year students sit Christmas and summer examinations, while third year students sit ‘mock’ examinations in February. Summer examinations are set out in the same format as the certificate examinations. This is good practice. Students are also given credit for practical work.
A parent-teacher meeting is held annually for each year group and it is reported that these meetings are well attended. Reports are sent to parents on two occasions each year for first year and second year students and after the ‘mock’ examinations for third year students. Further communication with parents takes place through the school homework journal which is well utilised. Tests are sent for signing to parents, if deemed necessary by senior management.
There is good emphasis on homework and assignments were given to students at the conclusion of all lessons evaluated. Practical notebooks examined in the course of the evaluation were of variable standard. In an effort to further improve the quality of students’ written practical records, it is recommended that notebooks are monitored to ensure that students take full cognisance of teachers’ annotation. It is commendable that the school has organised inservice with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) on the theme of assessment for learning.
Students with additional needs are well supported. Alternative textbooks and workbooks are available to cater for the range of student ability. Support is also available to students on an individual basis.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The school offers many science options. Science is a core TY subject. Biology is available to Leaving Certificate students with Horticulture offered as an elective
course to LCA students.
· Very good science planning and coordination are in place. There was very effective short-term planning in evidence in advance of lessons observed.
· ICT equipment is well utilised in the delivery of science education. Data logging equipment was particularly well utilised to support student learning.
· A very good classroom atmosphere for learning was maintained in all lessons and the pace was appropriate. Student-teacher and student-student relationships were good.
· The incremental development of skills, student progress in learning and reinforcement of knowledge were effective in lessons observed.
· Affirmation of students was evident in all lessons and participation levels were high. Promotional activities for Science are taking place.
· Assessment practices are good.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· A ‘taster’ programme for Science should be introduced in the interests of students making a more informed choice for the Junior Certificate.
· The school’s health and safety policy should be updated as planned. A ventilation facility should be incorporated into the chemical storage room, the gas cut-off valve
should be upgraded in line with best practice and the fire exit door from the laboratory preparation room should incorporate an opening mechanism on the interior in
the interests of safety.
· The long-term aspect to the science plan should be further developed.
· The good practice of sharing learning objectives should be extended across all lessons.
· The discovery-led approach to learning should be further developed and its use extended.
· In an effort to further improve the quality of students’ written practical records, it is recommended that notebooks are monitored.
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 May 2009