An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of Science and Chemistry

REPORT

 

Mary Immaculate Secondary School

Lisdoonvarna, County Clare

Roll number: 62000W

 

Date of inspection: 6 November 2007

Date of issue of report:† 22 May 2008

 

 

 

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole-school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

School Response to the Report

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science

 

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mary Immaculate Secondary School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science and Chemistry 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers. †The board of management 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.

 

 

Subject provision and whole-school support

 

Whole-school support for the sciences is good: Science is a core subject at junior cycle, students study modules of Physics and Biology in Transition Year (TY) and Biology, Chemistry and Physics are offered as optional subjects for Leaving Certificate. To provide a balanced approach to all aspects of learning science in TY, it is recommended that a module of Chemistry be also included in the provision. The uptake of the sciences for Leaving Certificate is good. Due to the small number of students opting to study Chemistry in fifth year in the current year, management has facilitated its provision outside the school timetable. While acknowledging the support provided by management in this regard, strategies should be explored to avoid this in future timetabling as management cannot guarantee its provision for the two-year cycle, due to the private arrangement in situ. During the evaluation, the principal informed the inspector that the parents of these students are cognisant of this arrangement.

 

The time allocation for the sciences is in line with the class contact time recommended in the syllabuses. Science classes at both senior and junior cycle are of mixed ability and all students are encouraged to achieve their best at the level that is appropriate to their abilities. It is commended that students retain the same teacher throughout junior cycle, and again for Leaving Certificate, as this supports continuity of learning.

 

It is good to note that students have an input into the creation of the subject-option blocks for Leaving Certificate. Studentsí initial choices are used to create a Ďbest-fití model for senior cycle subjects. Students entering fifth year are supported in making appropriate subject choices.

 

Mary Immaculate Secondary School has a good resource in its science personnel. The science teachers are committed and adopt a professional approach to their work. There is very good support for teachersí continuing professional development, with all science teachers afforded opportunities to attend relevant in-service courses. This is applauded. The teachersí commitment is also illustrated by involvement in the chemistry syllabus committee under the auspices of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) and the teacher design teams in Biology. This ongoing dedication to enhancing professional expertise is highly commended. Whole-staff development workshops have also taken place.

 

The school has one adequately resourced laboratory, with an attached preparation area and chemical store. It is recommended that the chemical store be fitted with appropriate ventilation as a matter of urgency. Commendably, all classes have a minimum of weekly access to the laboratories. Co-operation between teachers ensures that a laboratory is available when required. This is praiseworthy. It is good to note that funds are available on a needs basis for the updating, repair or enhancement of existing resources. The information and communications technologies (ICT) facilities in the laboratory are good and internet access is available to support the teaching and learning of the sciences.

 

There is a good level of safety equipment such as fire extinguishers, safety blankets and safety glasses in the laboratories. Good work has been done to ensure the safe storage of chemicals. This work will be enhanced through the utilisation of the recently purchased flame-resistant press for the storage of flammable chemicals. It is good to note that the science teachers are consulted during the process of reviewing the health and safety statement each year.

 

The laboratory is made visually stimulating through displays of posters and scientific models. For example, the posters illustrating the scientists who contributed to the discovery of the structure of the atom provide a valuable aid to the teaching and learning of this topic. The display of studentsí work is commended as it publicly affirms studentsí efforts. Science teachers should endeavour to display the periodic table of elements in the laboratory, as this resource should be utilised on an ongoing basis to support teaching and learning.

 

Students participate in a range of co-curricular and extracurricular science activities including fieldwork and participation in the STARS project. Students have obtained awards at the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition and the UK BA Crest Science Fair. Those involved are to be praised for their commitment to facilitating these educational and stimulating activities.

 

 

Planning and preparation

 

It is good to note that a common outline scheme of work, based on the format of the syllabus has been devised for each year group in junior cycle. It is recommended that all teachers use this common scheme in order to provide for a consistent approach to teaching Science and ensure standardisation across the year groups. Furthermore this outline scheme of work for Science could be expanded further to incorporate timeframes, suggested teaching and learning strategies, including ICT and resources over time. Optional assessment methods and examination preparation, as well as continual revision work could also be incorporated.

 

Currently there is no co-ordinator of Science, although the duties of one post-holder who is not a science teacher involve updating the science rules and ensuring that parents and students sign them at the beginning of each year. A fine level of co-operation and communication is conducted informally among the teachers in the science department and school management facilitates subject department planning by providing time for subject departments to meet. Commendably, these meetings are minuted. An appropriately resourced laboratory provides evidence of successful planning for resources. Consideration should be given to the appointment of a subject co-ordinator in the science department on a rotational basis, as this would further support the planning and organisation of resources and enhance subject planning.

 

Written programmes of work have been devised for TY Physics and Biology. A significant proportion of the content is Leaving Certificate material. Therefore, in keeping with TY guidelines, care should be taken to ensure that it is explored in an original and stimulating way that is significantly different from the way in which it is treated for Leaving Certificate

 

A good level of individual planning documentation was observed during the evaluation. In some instances teachers had compiled extensive folders of resources to support teaching and learning. This is commended. A range of electronic resources for Science has been developed for use by all members of the department. This is a superb example of departmental co-operation. Those involved are commended on their level of collegiality.

 

Planning for all lessons observed was good. Very good advance preparation was apparent by the manner in which all equipment, resources and handouts were ready for use during lessons. It is particularly commendable that planning extended beyond the confines of textbooks and introduced additional material, for example, loop cards and worksheets, to enhance the learning and add stimulus to the lessons.

 

 

Teaching and learning

 

Classroom management was very good and a pleasant and positive atmosphere prevailed. A very good teacher-student rapport existed, and relations were grounded in a sense of mutual respect. The students were attentive, enthusiastic and participated well in the learning process. Studentsí contributions to the lessons were welcomed and appropriately addressed. The supportive atmosphere facilitated students in asking questions when necessary.

 

There was a good quality of teaching and learning in evidence in the lessons visited. Almost all lessons were well structured, student-centred and the pace was appropriate to the studentsí abilities. Good continuity with previous lessons, building on studentsí prior knowledge and experience, was observed in almost all lessons. This was achieved through questioning to ascertain studentsí learning and also through the innovative use of loop cards. This is commended. There were also some very effective examples of linking the lesson content to the everyday life experiences of the students, thus stimulating student interest and making the subject tangible and relevant. For example in one lesson a student informed the class that sodium hydroxide is used in dehorning cattle.

 

A range of teaching methodologies was used, including teacher explanation, studentsí practical activities, and questioning. In almost all lessons, teacher instruction was clear, competent and accurate. The blackboard and PowerPoint presentations were effectively used to reinforce salient points. Students worked in pairs using props to develop the topic in the theory lesson observed. This is commended as it resulted in a good balance between teachersí inputs and studentsí activity. In almost all instances where the textbook was used, it was employed to highlight significant points and consolidate learning. This is good practice.

 

Question and answer sessions were also employed as a central means of developing new content as lessons proceeded in many instances, thus providing for effective engagement of students in the learning throughout the lesson. The degrees of difficulty of such questions and the forms they took were well tailored to the abilities of the students concerned. In the main, studentsí responses indicated good understanding and knowledge.

 

Practical work was highly organised, and students were supported in their work as their teacher moved about the room. In almost all cases the teacher focused on key aspects of the practical activity, selecting and emphasising particular elements prior to the students performing the investigations. This is good practice as in these instances students exhibited an understanding of the underlying scientific concepts. Students worked in pairs or groups of three. They were confident and capable in setting up and completing the tasks and their practical skills were well developed. Due regard was given to safety procedures. However, it is recommended that the teachers explore the use of the investigative approach to practical work to a greater extent and plan for greater levels of studentsí self-directed and discovery learning. In almost all instances a plenary session was employed on completion of the practical activity to reinforce studentsí learning. This very good approach to practical lessons should be utilised in all instances where students are involved in hands-on practical activities.

 

Teachers deserve acknowledgement for their success in instilling in students a remarkable interest in the sciences and for their part in generating this warm atmosphere, wholly conducive to good learning.

 

 

Assessment

 

Oral assessments to determine studentsí understanding were integrated into almost all lessons observed. Written homework, including practice in State examination questions, is regularly assigned, and generally monitored. There was evidence of class tests on specific topics. This is laudable.

 

Assessment methods at the school follow normal lines. Formal whole-school tests are held for all classes at Christmas and for non-examination classes in summer. Examination classes sit pre-examinations in the spring. In addition assessments take place at October mid-term for all classes and at Easter for the non-examination classes. Common assessments or common components in the formal examinations could be used at junior cycle to complement the common science programme of work once it has been utilised by all teachers. Christmas and end-of-year assessments are held for TY students. It is understood that there has been some employment of assessment of studentsí practical work in TY. Teachers are encouraged to expand the use of this very good strategy.

 

Studentsí attendance and examination results are recorded. This is commended. Reports are issued to parents following all formal assessments. Information on studentsí progress is also facilitated through the annual parent-teacher meetings, the studentsí journal and parents are encouraged to contact the school as necessary. School management conducts an analysis of the State examination results on a subject-by-subject basis. This is then made available to all teachers and trustees, and parents receive a percentage breakdown of the central applications office (CAO) points obtained by students in the school.

 

Students have a laboratory notebook or file in which they record all their experimental work. In almost all instances, these practical notebooks are monitored. This is commended. There was also evidence of the good practice of annotation of studentsí work, a procedure that is to be encouraged. It is recommended that practical work should be included in a scheme of continuous assessment, which it is understood has previously been employed in a minority instances. This would provide motivation for engagement by all students with the practical element of the course. Such practice reflects the assessment objectives of the Junior Certificate syllabus.

 

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

         There is good support for the sciences in the school. Science is a core subject for Junior Certificate. Modules of Biology and Physics are studied in TY and Biology,

      Chemistry and Physics are offered as optional subjects for Leaving Certificate.

         There is good quality of teaching and learning in Science and Chemistry. The science teachers are committed and adopt a professional approach to their work. An

      appropriately resourced laboratory and individual programmes of work provide evidence of a good level of planning.

         A range of electronic resources for Science has been developed for use by all members of the department. This is a superb example of departmental co-operation.

         Very good teacher-student rapport existed, and relations were grounded in a sense of mutual respect. The students were attentive, enthusiastic and participated wellin

      the learning process, in the very positive learning environment.

         Overall, good quality of teaching and learning was observed in the lessons visited. Students were actively engaged through pair work, questioning and practical

      activities.

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:†

 

         To provide a balanced approach to all aspects of learning science in TY, it is recommended that a module of Chemistry be also included in the provision.

         It is recommended that the chemical store be fitted with appropriate ventilation as a matter of urgency.

         It is recommended that all teachers use the common scheme in order to provide for a consistent approach to teaching Science and ensure standardisation across the

      year groups.

         Consideration should be given to the appointment of a subject co-ordinator in the science department on a rotational basis, as this would further support the planning

      and organisation of resources and enhance subject planning.

         It is recommended that the teachers explore the use of the investigative approach to practical work to a greater extent and plan for greater levels of studentsí self-

      directed and discovery learning.

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Science and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.


 

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

Area 1:† Observations on the content of the inspection report

 

The Board of Management welcomes the positive report on science and chemistry teaching in the school.

 

 

Area 2:† Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection

 

 

In relation to the recommendations follow up action has already been taken:

 

         The building unit of the DES in Tullamore has been contacted to request funding to install an air extractor in the preparation room††

 

         The science teachers have appointed a subject co-ordinator

 

         A chemistry module has been incorporated into the TY programme