An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physics
Loreto Secondary School
Granges Road, Kilkenny
Roll number: 61580P
Date of inspection: 23 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto Secondary School, Kilkenny. 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 of Physics. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Science is a core subject in junior cycle and in Transition Year (TY) at Loreto Secondary School. There are seven class groups in first year and second year and six class groups in third year. Classes generally have a maximum of twenty-four students and generally retain the same teacher for Science throughout junior cycle.
TY is optional in the school with an uptake of approximately eighty percent. The TY science programme is well balanced with modules in Physics, Sports Science, Chemistry and Biology.
Science is well catered for at senior cycle with the school offering Physics, Chemistry and Biology to students. Currently, there is one class group in Physics in fifth and sixth year, two class groups in Chemistry and four or five class groups in Biology. Students are very well supported in choosing their subjects for senior cycle. An informed choice is made with the vast majority of students gaining their desired choice of subjects. Science subjects are banded in such a way to allow students to choose up to three science subjects for Leaving Certificate. This is commended.
Time allocation of one double and two single class periods to Science in second year and third year of junior cycle is in line with syllabus requirements. However, in first year, time allocation falls short of syllabus requirements by one class period. Therefore, it is recommended that the school gives consideration to an increased time allocation for Science in first year. Time allocation to Physics is good with one double and three single class periods. Access to laboratories is carefully managed with double class access maximised. Good laboratory timetabling has made this possible.
The school has three science laboratories and one demonstration room which is mainly used for science lessons. Two laboratories have a shared preparation and storage area including a ventilated chemical store room. The physics laboratory has a separate preparation and storage area. ICT facilities in the laboratories include two data projectors, two laptops, a computer in each laboratory and data logging equipment. Laboratories were well maintained and equipment was stored in an orderly fashion. With a current enrolment of 740 students and with extensive junior and senior science provision on the curriculum, the school is in great need of enhanced laboratory facilities. A science laboratory will form part of the school’s planned extension, and in this context, it is recommended that facilities be further enhanced as resources permit and that a bank of ICT resources be maintained by the science department.
The school’s health and safety statement was reviewed in 2007. An independent risk assessment was carried out and a safety statement was prepared. This was monitored and reviewed by a sub- committee of the board of management and ratified by the board. General safety equipment was present in laboratories in the course of the evaluation. It is recommended that all chemicals in laboratories be stored in line with best practice and Department guidelines and that laboratory rules be clearly displayed in all laboratories.
The school provides an annual budget for science equipment and resources at both junior and senior cycle. This budget is divided between the purchase of on-going resources and capital expenditure.
The continuous professional development (CPD) needs of science teachers are well supported by school management. Teachers are facilitated in attending relevant in-service courses and are supported in their membership of professional organisations.
Student participation in extra-curricular and out-of-school activities include participation in the BT Young Scientists Competition, Science Week activities, annual science quizzes and attendance at science lectures. This is commended.
A science co-ordinator is in place with responsibilities including budgeting and ordering equipment, co-ordination of laboratory timetables, establishing safety procedures and mentoring new science teachers. These responsibilities form part of the duties assigned to an assistant principal post. Science teachers meet at the beginning and end of the year and as necessary throughout the year. The Monday afternoon planning meeting may, on occasion, be used for subject planning and teachers may request additional meeting times, when needed. Minutes of meetings are maintained. This is commended. In addition, informal meetings take place regularly to plan for the ongoing development of the subject.
A very good and comprehensive physics plan has been developed. It details many aspects of subject provision including classroom organisation, effective teaching methodologies, homework, assessment and reporting procedures. This plan is highly commended. A very well devised scheme of work for Physics has also been developed. This scheme contains a detailed plan to address the teaching of the syllabus and contains information on many areas including definitions, problems and tests including revision tests. This is highly commended. Future planning should include monitoring the uptake of Physics and the development of laboratory resources, including ICT resources.
The general TY science plan is in need of updating and review in line with Department guidelines. In particular, it should include further material on methodologies, resources and evaluation. The subject planning template suggested in Department guidelines should be adopted. The physics course content of the TY plan is mainly Leaving Certificate material. While some Leaving Certificate material may be included, the plan should not exclusively focus on Leaving Certificate content.
Preparation for the lessons observed was very good. ICT and practical equipment were ready and set up in advance. The content and delivery of lessons were very well planned. The high quality of advance preparation led to the seamless delivery of lessons. This is highly commended
Active learning was encouraged in all lessons evaluated. Students were highly motivated and an encouraging atmosphere for learning was created. Relationships within the classes were excellent and a very good rapport was present. Students were very well supported and affirmed in their work. This is highly commended. Lesson progression was very good. Consideration should be given to the sharing of lesson learning objectives with students from the outset to facilitate the achievement of lesson goals.
The variety of methodologies used to deliver lessons was appropriate to the class group and to the lesson content. ICT, in the form of a presentation delivered using a data-projector and computer, was used appropriately during a TY lesson, where students took the ‘Einstein Challenge’. A handout was distributed to record the group answers to the challenging questions which frequently took students beyond their everyday experiences. Many questions from students led to lively classroom discussions. This lesson was innovative in nature and in accordance with Department TY guidelines. This is highly commended. The overhead projector and whiteboard were used to good effect as an aid to focus key concepts, words and equations and to draw graphs showing relations between quantities. There was a further example of good practice where students were learning some key ideas from nuclear physics, and the seamless progression of the lesson is highly commended. Binding energy, mass defect, nuclear fission and nuclear fusion were some of the important concepts in this lesson which were explained with clarity. A very good plenary session ensured that student learning was consolidated.
Practical work formed the focus of one lesson visited. Students were carrying out an investigative task to measure the specific latent heat of vaporisation of water. The groups of four were quite large. Practical groups of no more than three students should be formed for such tasks, so that all students can maximise their ‘hands on’ practical experience. In addition, students should be reminded to wear their safety spectacles during such practical work, in line with the school’s health and safety statement. Students demonstrated very good ability at setting up the apparatus and in taking a range of measurements accurately. In addition, their knowledge of possible practical errors in taking measurements was very good. They showed skill in using the calculator and in the very good practice of repeating the experiment to achieve an accurate result.
Student participation in lessons was generally very good. 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 in the course of the evaluation. However, it is important that the pace of lessons be such that students are given the opportunity to answer questions in advance of the lesson moving forward. Individual and group support was given to students as needed and this had the effect of improving participation and consolidating the learning experience.
The uptake of higher-level Physics and junior science is very good. Student achievement is very high with a significant number of ABC grades in higher-level Physics and higher-level Science. The school is highly commended in this regard.
The school has completed a homework policy and an assessment policy as part of its extensive school plan. In addition, homework and assessment procedures are outlined in the physics plan. It is commendable that common assessment procedures have been developed for Science in junior cycle. There is continuous monitoring of students with regular class tests. In Physics, students are assessed at the end of each module. Fifth and sixth year tests in Physics take place every three to four weeks. Written reports on students’ attainment, behaviour and attendance are sent to parents at Christmas and Easter. These reports are based on the students overall performance for the term. Reports for TY students are sent to parents in January and June. Results of formal summer examinations for all students are sent to parents at the end of June. ‘Mock’ examinations take place for third and sixth year students in February. The physics ‘mock’ examination is corrected in the school.
Contact with parents is ongoing with parent-teacher meetings for each year group and parent information evenings, when necessary. Parents may meet any teacher by appointment throughout the year. Communication with parents is regular and ongoing through the student journal.
Records of practical work were generally maintained to a good standard. In some cases, however, the quality could improve. Therefore, it is recommended that corrections in student notebooks are followed up upon, with students being given the responsibility of maintaining a high quality record of their work. Consideration should be given to allocating credit in school assessments for the maintenance of student practical books.
Students with additional needs are well supported in Loreto Secondary School. Students who have difficulties with science terminology or concepts are given extra supports by the learning support teacher.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Science is a core subject at junior cycle and in TY. There is good science provision at senior cycle with modules of Physics, Sports Science, Chemistry and Biology offered in TY. At leaving Certificate level, Physics, Chemistry and Biology are offered to students.
· A very comprehensive physics plan and scheme of work for Physics have been developed.
· Active Learning was encouraged in all lessons evaluated. Students were highly motivated and a purposeful atmosphere for learning was created.
· Relationships within the classes were excellent and a very good rapport was present. Students were very well supported and affirmed in their work.
· The uptake of higher-level Physics and Science is very good. Student achievement is very high with a significant number of ABC grades in higher-level Physics and higher-level Science.
· Very good assessment practices are in place with student monitoring and testing.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Consideration should be given to an increased time allocation to Science in first year in accordance with Department recommendations.
· ICT facilities should be further enhanced and a central bank of ICT resources should be maintained.
· The TY plan for Science and Physics should be reviewed and updated in line with Department guidelines.
· Students should work in smaller groups in order to gain more effective practical experience while carrying out the mandatory practical experiments.
· Students should be given the responsibility of maintaining a high quality practical notebook and given credit in school assessments for their practical 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 January 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
a. The Board of Management welcomes the report on the Department of Education and Science’s inspection of the teaching and learning of Physics in Loreto Secondary School, Kilkenny. This report accurately reflects the school’s ongoing commitment to the sciences, the delivery of quality student-centred teaching and co-ordinated subjected planning. The Board welcomes the constructive recommendations contained within the report and is happy to report that most of these recommendations have now been implemented. The Board commends the Physics faculty and values its contribution to learning and teaching within the school. We note, in particular, references to the positive active learning atmosphere during the lessons, the high level of achievement of our students in Higher Level Physics and Science (Junior Certificate), commendable assessment procedures, excellent support for students with additional learning needs and good communication with parents.
With regard to the recommendation that the Board should consider increasing teaching time in science for first year students, it should be noted that the Loreto Secondary School operates a taster system in first year which allows each student to sample a broad range of subjects. This enables them to make informed subject choices for Junior Certificate and to gain a broad base for their future learning. This system proves to be very popular with students and parents alike and is in line with recognised best practice. Our results in the state examinations continue to be of an exceptionally high standard and there is no evidence that our policy has an adverse affect on the sciences (or any other subject). In fact, the number of students taking science subjects to Leaving Certificate (and to Higher Level) is very significantly in excess of the national average. The fact that Science is a compulsory subject for all junior students, demonstrates our commitment to the subject and our awareness of the needs of society and industry. However, the recommendation will be considered as part of the next curriculum review.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The Board welcomes the recommendation regarding the development of I.C.T. resources within the science faculty. Loreto Secondary School is committed to supporting innovative teaching and the use of I.C.T. in the context of developing multi-sensory teaching strategies. We have recently formed an I.C.T. committee, the aim of which will be to develop an overall strategy for the school. The science faculty is represented on this committee. Funding in this area is extremely limited and the Board would greatly appreciate the assistance of Department of Education and Science in this regard
The very positive commendation of our hugely popular Transition Year programme is also greatly welcomed. Over one hundred of our students take this non-compulsory option each year. Our programme makes an enormous contribution to the holistic development of our students and enables them to enter the Leaving Certificate programme with great confidence, having had ample time to explore their career and subject options, within the context of an active and student-lead learning environment. The school is in the process of reviewing our T.Y. plan to ensure that it is in line with our current programme.
Finally, the Board of Management would like to thank the Inspectorate for the professional, thorough and courteous manner in which the evaluation was undertaken.