An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physics
Castlecomer Road, Kilkenny
Roll number: 61570M
Date of inspection: 7 March 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Kilkenny 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, deputy 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 Kilkenny College with six class groups in each year of junior cycle. Classes are of mixed ability and generally retain the same teacher throughout each year of junior cycle Science. At senior cycle, Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Agricultural Science are offered to students following the Leaving Certificate programme. Currently, there is one class group for Physics in fifth year and sixth year. Physics is also offered to students as part of the compulsory Transition Year (TY) programme. Students are required to choose their subjects for Leaving Certificate at the end of third year. This is not good practice and is not in accordance with Department TY guidelines or circular M1/00. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that the college complies with circular M1/00 in future years.
The college operates a fortnightly timetable. Time allocation to Science at junior cycle and Physics at senior cycle is in accordance with syllabus requirements. When expressed in terms of time allocation per week, four class periods are allocated to first years, four or five to second and third years, four to TY and five or six to fifth and sixth years. Access to laboratories is excellent with the vast majority of lessons taking place in a laboratory. There are eight science laboratories in the college with adjoining preparation and storage areas. The two new laboratories have substantially enhanced science accommodation in the college. Management provides the science department with a budget on a needs basis.
The college’s current health and safety statement was drawn up in 2006. It contains a substantial section relating to the science department and makes reference to the guidelines of the Department of Education and Science. While it is acknowledged that good progress has been made regarding the storage of chemicals since the previous inspection of Science in 2003, it is now recommended that this work be completed with provision made for the storage of all chemicals in line with best practice as outlined in the guidelines.
Information and communications technology (ICT) provision in most laboratories is good with computers, data-projectors and internet access. Data logging equipment was in evidence in the physics laboratory. It is recommended that ICT provision be extended across the remaining laboratories.
Students have participated in many extra-curricular and out-of-school activities including the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, the Bayer Science Quiz and attendance at the Tyndall lectures. The college supports teachers’ pursuit of continuous professional development (CPD) and science teachers are facilitated to attend in-service courses.
Minutes of science department meetings show that discussions on common science planning, common assessment, chemical storage and communication with management are some of the issues and questions addressed by the science department. A science co-ordinator is in place and in addition, a special duties teacher post is allocated to duties, such as the ordering of laboratory materials. Consideration should be given to creating an annual voluntary rotating co-ordinator position, so that all science teachers have the opportunity to co-ordinate Science.
A common scheme of work for Science has been developed. To build on the work already completed, it is recommended that a broad science plan be developed collaboratively to include areas such as common planning, common assessment practices, teaching methodologies, resources, learning support, sharing of best practice, CPD, uptake of senior cycle science subjects and measures to improve gender balance. Reference should be made to the website of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI), (www.sdpi.ie).
Short-term and long-term plans for Physics were examined in the course of the evaluation. It is recommended that a broad physics plan be developed for senior cycle along the lines of the science plan, mentioned above. In particular, the TY plan needs special attention with the introduction of alternative material to that on the Leaving Certificate programme. Leaving Certificate subjects may be sampled in TY but TY should not be used as an opportunity to offer a three-year Leaving Certificate programme. An applied physics module could be developed.
Practical equipment, ICT and teaching resources were ready in advance of lessons observed. The content and delivery of lessons were very well planned as evidenced in the course of the evaluation.
There was a good atmosphere of learning created in all lessons. Students were encouraged to understand key concepts at the outset and were motivated to learn. Lessons progressed seamlessly as a result of very good advance planning. Students were affirmed in their work and in their responses to questions and this contributed to successful learning outcomes.
A review of the ‘mock’ physics examination paper was the theme of one lesson visited. Students were assigned to revisit a practical investigation to measure the specific latent heat of fusion of ice. There was clear emphasis on the importance of using correct units in carrying out the mathematical calculations. Experimental error was discussed. It was evident from the quality of their answers that students had very good knowledge of the key concepts.
Methodologies observed in the course of the evaluation were varied. The board was used to highlight key words, concepts or fundamental mathematical formulas. Demonstrations were effectively employed to reinforce abstract concepts. For example during a TY lesson visited, a well-planned series of demonstrations prepared students for their task of building an electric motor. The properties of a current carrying conductor in a magnetic field were discussed, this progressed to demonstrations and discussions on the electromagnet and finally to a demonstration of the electric motor. The underlying mathematical formulas and concepts were introduced at appropriate stages. Students were highly motivated to succeed at this task and the majority of students were successful in building a working motor in the time available. However, it is recommended that smaller groups be formed, as equipment allows, so that all students can get appropriate practical experience at carrying out the set task.
Concepts were demonstrated with the aid of a computer using appropriate applets. There were occasions where the use of a data-projector with the whole class would have been more beneficial for plenary discussion. A good handout was given to aid students in their task. In addition, a supplementary worksheet may have been useful as an aid to student learning.
Questions were probing and sufficiently challenging and were, in the main, directed at the entire class. Further individual questioning may have been useful in encouraging participation by all students. The use of appropriate questions consolidated student learning and ensured that students were sufficiently challenged to reach their potential. Students were confident at answering questions on their work and many demonstrated good problem solving skills during the course of the evaluation.
The uptake of higher level for senior physics students is very high with a very large proportion of students achieving a higher level grade.
Third year and sixth year classes sit ‘mock’ examinations in February. These examinations are corrected by the science and physics teachers. Formal examinations take place at Christmas and summer for all other class groups. Additional class tests take place as necessary. Certificate examination results are analysed by school management and are made available to subject departments.
Parents are made aware of students’ progress by means of the annual parent-teacher meeting and reports sent home. Third and sixth year students receive three reports over the year, while all other year groups receive two reports.
Records of students’ practical work were maintained to a good standard by many students. However, the standard and quality of work recorded by some students needs improvement. Therefore, it is recommended that the quality of this work is regularly checked, notebooks are annotated, and students are given the responsibility of maintaining a high quality record of their work.
A draft school homework policy is in place. Homework was assigned at the conclusion of lessons observed. These assignments consolidated the classroom learning experience.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Science is a core subject at Kilkenny College. Science subjects at senior cycle are well catered for with Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Agricultural Science offered to students. Physics is also
offered to students as part of the compulsory TY programme.
· The content and delivery of lessons observed in the course of the evaluation were very well planned.
· There was a good atmosphere of learning created in all lessons. Students were encouraged to understand key concepts at the outset of lessons and were motivated to learn.
· Students were affirmed in their work and in their responses to questions and this contributed to successful learning outcomes.
· Methodologies observed in the course of the evaluation were varied. Demonstrations were effectively employed to reinforce abstract concepts.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is strongly recommended that the college complies with circular M1/00 regarding the TY programme in future years. As a consequence of this change, the physics course for TY will need revision in
line with TY guidelines.
· It is recommended that work on the storage of all chemicals be completed in line with best practice. Provision of ICT facilities should be extended across the remaining laboratories.
· To build on the work already completed, it is recommended that a broad science plan be developed collaboratively to include areas such as common planning, common assessment practices, teaching
methodologies, resources, learning support, sharing of best practice, CPD, uptake of senior cycle science subjects and measures to improve gender balance.
· The quality of students’ practical notebooks should be checked regularly.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teacher of Physics, together with the principal and deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published December 2008