An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physics and Science
Clongowes Wood College
Naas, County Kildare
Roll number: 61720F
Date of inspection: 15 and 16 September 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physics and Science
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Clongowes Wood College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Physics and Science and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of these subjects 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 deputy principal and subject teachers. 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 at Clongowes Wood College with three mixed-ability class groups in each year of junior cycle. Classes retain the same teacher throughout junior or senior cycle. The physics, chemistry and biology components of the junior science curriculum are taught by subject specialist teachers with a six-week rotation of classes and there is simultaneous timetabling of classes to this end. In light of the practical nature of Science, the need for students to conduct regular experiments and the need to ensure the health and safety of all students, the college is urged to review current class sizes.
Modules in Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Astronomy form part of the Transition Year (TY) programme which is compulsory in Clongowes Wood. TY classes are allocated one double and two single class periods for each science module and classes rotate between these modules throughout the year.
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 each of the subjects, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. Subject choice is very well supported with students receiving advice from science teachers, the guidance counsellor and the academic year heads. Science department policy strongly recommends that each student should continue with the study of at least one senior science subject for the Leaving Certificate. This is commended. There has been very good uptake of Physics at senior cycle over recent years with the average number of students choosing Physics exceeding twenty. This is significantly higher than national trends and the science teachers and physics teachers are to be commended for attaining this uptake.
Time allocation to Science at junior cycle and Physics at senior cycle is in line with syllabus requirements. Science in first year is allocated one double and two single class periods. In second year and third year there is a science allocation of one double and three single class periods. At senior cycle, Physics is allocated one double and three single class periods. There is very good access to laboratories for all science classes.
The college has three science laboratories, all located along the same corridor. This allows easy access to the chemical storage room and facilitates the sharing of resources. Each laboratory has an adjacent classroom area so that classes can easily be conducted in either area to facilitate practical work and theory lessons. This facility worked very well in the course of the evaluation. Each laboratory also has an adjacent storage and preparation area, some of which are actively used for science provision. A new gas system has been put in place with gas cut-off switches. The college should consider the provision of electrical cut-off points in each laboratory in the interests of health and safety. The current laboratories are dated and the college has recognised the need for modern science facilities. Therefore, a new science block is planned. It is very commendable that science teachers have been consulted at every stage of planning of this new facility. The college is encouraged to proceed with this new development.
Each laboratory is equipped with a data-projector, a laptop computer and with wireless broadband. In addition, science teachers make use of the college’s general ICT facilities. The recent purchase of class sets of data logging equipment is commended and provides scope for the development of information and communication technology (ICT) into the science curriculum. In-service in the use of this equipment is planned for the near future. This is commended. Science teachers regularly attend available in-service. Continuous professional development (CPD) is well supported by school management with teachers receiving support in pursuing post-graduate studies and in membership of a professional organisation.
The college’s health and safety statement was reviewed in 2006 and is reviewed every two years. Science teachers are consulted in this process. This is commended. Laboratory rules, on display in laboratories, form part of science policy.
Budgetary provision for the science department is adequate and meets ongoing needs. This budget is divided between the purchase of on-going resources and capital expenditure. Current needs are identified collaboratively by the science department and submitted to school management.
Student participation in extra-curricular and out-of-school activities includes attendance and participation in the BT Young Scientists Competition, the Irish Science Teachers’ Association Science Quiz and the Irish Science Olympiads. Links have been forged with local institutions and students regularly attend science lectures provided as part of Science Week and other events.
The position of subject convenor for Science is rotated annually. This is good practice as it gives each member of the teaching team valuable organisational experience in a coordinating role. Duties undertaken include drafting the annual budget, coordination of the ordering of equipment, liaison with school management, calling planning meetings and leading the science department forward. These duties are carried out very effectively as evidenced in the course of the evaluation and as evidenced from science department minutes of meetings. Science teachers meet formally at least three times throughout the year and there are ongoing informal meetings organised as the need arises. Much collaborative planning takes place as evidenced from the minutes of meetings and this is highly commended.
Very good and well developed science and physics department policies/plans are in place. Many aspects of subject provision are outlined including time allocation, division of classes, assessment, practical work, health and safety, CPD, budgeting, parent teacher meetings and special needs provision. It is recommended that the science plan be further developed and integrated into a single document and that it addresses broader issues including science provision for the future, sharing of best practice within the science department and analysis of examination results. In this context, the TY plans for science should be further developed in line with Department guidelines and using a common template as outlined in Writing the Transition Year Programme. It is commendable that the content of the TY plans are innovative and promote the broad aims of TY science education.
Good schemes of work were in place at junior and senior cycle and long and short term planning for Science and Physics was well thought out and implemented. It is recommended that this planning material be integrated into the science plan in the interests of completeness and to further promote a common approach at junior cycle. Very good collaborative planning also takes place in advance of parent-teacher meetings to facilitate effective reporting to parents.
Teachers were very well prepared for the lessons observed with ICT and practical equipment ready and set up in advance. Resources including worksheets and handouts had been pre-prepared. The content and delivery of lessons were very well planned with lesson objectives and classroom methodologies carefully thought out. This is highly commended.
The quality of teaching and student learning was very high. Teachers displayed an in-depth knowledge of their subject and relayed this knowledge to students very effectively during the lessons evaluated. The clarity of delivery of knowledge and the effective way in which student learning was progressed was noteworthy and is highly commended. Lessons were conducted in a motivational atmosphere, interest by students in the lesson material was very high and this lead to a very positive rapport and effective student learning. Lesson learning objectives were generally shared with students at the outset of lessons and it is recommended that this be applied to all lessons so that a common short-term goal is set and achieved.
Methodologies were varied with appropriate use of ICT and it is recommended that use of ICT be expanded in some lessons. Excellent use was made of the board to focus students’ attention on key words and as an aid to summarise key ideas throughout lessons. Group work was used appropriately at intervals during some lessons to consolidate the student learning experience. Appropriate customised worksheets were distributed in some lessons and it is recommended that this practice be extended across all lessons.
In one lesson observed, real-life applications of water hardness were under discussion. A sample of lime scale from the element of a kettle was passed around the class for examination by students. This methodology is commended for its effect of consolidating learning. In the course of a physics lesson, a demonstration was carried out to investigate the factors affecting the capacitance of a parallel plate capacitor. Through a series of well-thought-out investigative questions, students suggested the relevant factors themselves and were affirmed in the process. This discovery-led approach is highly commended. Student practical work formed part of some lessons evaluated. In a further lesson, students were well prepared for the investigation by a thorough discussion on the theory behind the experiment. Students’ questions and suggestions were taken on board before proceeding to the laboratory for practical work on the measurement of the acceleration of a trolley. Results were recorded by students for later analysis and various modifications of the experimental procedure were discussed. While this investigation was effective, it is recommended that a hands-on approach for all students be implemented. The recently purchased data logging equipment may play a vital part in this process in future.
Student participation was very good in all lessons evaluated. In one lesson, students were learning the structure and functions of the female reproductive system. Questioning was used expertly as an effective methodology in teaching this material and the appropriate use of ICT ensured that clear diagrams were visible to students. Questions from students were answered expertly and lively discussions sometimes followed. In all lessons evaluated, questions were probing and sufficiently challenging and had the effect of consolidating student learning and building on students’ knowledge and understanding. Students were very confident at answering questions on their work.
The level of student achievement in Science and Physics is very high with the vast majority of students achieving a higher level grade in Science and all students receiving a higher level grade in Physics in recent years. Many of these students have achieved an A grade. Almost all students choose Science at higher level and all students in recent years have chosen Physics at higher-level. This is commended.
Students are formally assessed every five weeks with a ‘Headmaster’s Report’ made available on the college website. Formal examinations take place at Christmas and summer with ‘mock’ examinations for third and sixth year students in March. These examinations are corrected by teachers in the college. The good practice of teachers monitoring achievement in examinations at this vital stage of student examination preparation is commended.
Parents maintain regular contact with the college through the academic year heads and by attendance at the annual parent-teacher meetings. As mentioned earlier, science teachers collaborate in preparation for these meetings, test results are shared and concerns regarding any individual student are discussed. This provides parents with the opportunity to meet one of the junior science teachers to discuss their son’s progress. Formal written reports are sent to parents at Christmas, March and summer.
There is very good ongoing annotation of students’ practical notebooks by teachers. Records of practical work were maintained to a very good standard. The science department allocates ten percent of the marks at summer examinations to the completion of student practical books. In second year, science students are allocated up to twenty-five percent of the overall marks for a practical investigation. This good practice is commended.
Good support procedures are in place for students with additional needs. An experienced former science teacher provides additional tuition to students when necessary. This is commended.
Relevant homework was assigned in all lesson evaluated. The college has a current homework policy in place which makes reference to homework implementation procedures by subject departments. It is recommended that the science department draw up a homework policy for Science, in line with the college policy, to further streamline procedures across science classes and to facilitate a collaborative approach to the assignment and correction of homework.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Science is a core subject with Physics, Chemistry and Biology offered as modules in TY and as senior cycle subjects. Uptake of Physics has been consistently very good.
· CPD is well supported by school management.
· Science coordination duties are carried out very effectively. Minutes of subject department meetings provide evidence of the extent of collaborative planning.
· The content and delivery of lessons were very well planned. Good schemes of work were in place at junior and senior cycle and long and short term planning for Science and Physics was well thought out and implemented.
· Teachers displayed an in-depth knowledge of their subject and relayed this knowledge to students very effectively. Lessons were conducted in a motivational atmosphere, interest by students in the lesson material was very high and this lead to a very positive rapport.
· The student uptake of Science and Physics is almost exclusively at higher level and both student uptake and student achievement are consistently very good.
· Practical demonstrations were used to good effect.
· Assessment procedures were thorough and extensive with ongoing assessment through the college’s ‘Headmaster’s Reports’ in addition to formal examinations and class tests. Reporting to parents is well developed.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The science plan should be further developed and integrated into a single document to address broader issues including science provision for the future, sharing of best practice within the science department and analysis of examination results. In this context, the TY plans for science should be further developed in line with Department guidelines and using a common template.
· The practice of sharing lesson learning objectives should be extended across all lessons.
· The appropriate use of ICT and customised worksheets should be expanded.
· A hands-on approach for student practical work should be developed for all mandatory experiments.
· A homework policy for Science should be developed.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Physics and Science, together with the deputy 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
1. The science faculty are looking forward to working in the new science facilities, including a fourth laboratory, as designed by Murray O’Laoire Architects, early in 2010
2. It is the policy and the practice of the science faculty to have a “hands on approach” for student practicals. Although a collaborative approach is sometimes taken at the beginning of the year
3. It is the practice of the science faculty to have working objectives in all lessons
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
1. The science plan is currently being modified to include in a single document those issues mentioned in the report (by amalgamating information currently held in separate science documents)
2. The T.Y plan for science will be modified using the Department templates
3. Science teachers are investigating the further use of ICT and worksheets in class
4. The homework policy will be incorporated in the science plan