An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Chemistry
Saint Raphael’s College,
Loughrea, County Galway
Roll number: 63070C
Date of inspection: 31 March 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Chemistry
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Raphael’s College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science and in Chemistry and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of these subjects 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. 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.
St Raphael’s College is a co-educational secondary school under the trusteeship of CEIST. It is located in the town of Loughrea, County Galway.
Relative to its enrolment the range of science subjects offered by the school at senior cycle is good. The uptake of Chemistry and of the other senior-cycle science subjects (Physics and Biology) is generally good. This suggests that students during their junior cycle studies have developed positive attitudes to studying science subjects.
In this school, Science is an optional subject at junior cycle but the school has included it in all of the option blocks from which students select their subjects. It was reported during the evaluation that almost all students choose to study Science and that it is exceptional if a student does not choose Science. Again, this suggests that the students are positively disposed to studying Science.
There is good provision of information and communications technology (ICT) equipment for the teaching and learning of science subjects. It was noted that some good use was made of this equipment during lessons that were observed. It was noteworthy that the prevalence and use of ICT has increased in line with the recommendation made in a previous subject inspection report on Science and Chemistry.
The school has two science laboratories with an adjoining preparation area. These facilities are in very good condition and are maintained to very high standards. They provide an appealing learning space in which to study science subjects. Displays of some student work were noted in the laboratories. The previous science and chemistry report for the school recommended that recent student work be regularly displayed in the laboratories and it is commendable that this recommendation has been addressed. It is to be encouraged that the science teachers continue to maximise the learning benefits that can accrue from such displays. A further example of good practice that was noted was the display of a “word bank” relevant to the topic under study. This display included the scientific terms encountered by students for the topic under study. Its use places a beneficial emphasis on scientific literacy and on supporting students using a range of resources and this is to be commended.
There is good support for the teachers’ continuing professional development. They have been facilitated in attending all relevant in-service education courses. Also, the school pays the fees for their membership of the Irish Science Teachers’ Association.
There are appropriate structures in place in the school to support subject planning. These include the role of a co-ordinator for science subjects, a role that is filled voluntarily by one of the teachers. The science teachers work well together and they show a high degree of collegiality and collaboration in their work. In building on the collaborative nature of the work of the science teachers it is recommended that the role of science co-ordinator be rotated among the teachers annually. This will give each teacher the opportunity to experience the functions fulfilled by the science co-ordinator and will serve to further support the already strong collaborative working ethos among the science teachers.
A science plan has been drawn up and this was made available for inspection. Good work has been done in creating this plan. Of particular note was that timeframes have been agreed by the teachers for the delivery of syllabus content. This is good practice because it enables the teachers to share their expertise as they are teaching each topic and it also enables them to develop common assessments for use with their classes.
Where individual teacher planning files were presented for inspection they were of a high quality.
All lessons were well planned. Appropriate preparation had been undertaken for all lessons and this was evident from the fact that all materials were to hand and the teachers showed a high level of subject matter expertise in the topics being taught.
Questioning was foremost among the teaching methodologies observed. Of the different questioning strategies used directed questioning was the most effective. In using directed questioning the teacher posed questions to the entire class, allowed a brief wait time to enable students to consider their answers and then asked a named student for his or her response. It is recommended that this approach to questioning be further integrated in lessons so that more questioning is directed in nature.
Good practices that were observed in lessons included the use of ICT and the use of short, written exercises that were completed by the students. ICT was used effectively to provide a visual aid. The dynamic nature of the computer applet that was used enabled the teacher to demonstrate the physical system that was under study and helped students to better understand the effects of changing parameters in the system. The short, written exercises that the students completed served to reinforce their learning and enabled the teacher to circulate among the students and observe their progress. This strategy allowed the teacher to gain feedback on the students’ learning and to then address areas in which they were having difficulties.
In one lesson, models were used to show the students the structural configuration of certain molecules. This was effective as it would have been much more difficult to achieve the same understanding without using models or a three-dimensional aid. In all lessons, the key learning points were written on the board and this is good practice as it serves to reinforce students’ learning and to ensure that they can note the most important points from the lesson. In one lesson where calculations were being performed, the teacher used the board to show how each element of the calculation was derived and how to successfully carry out the calculation. This is good practice.
The performance of experimental work was a feature of a number of lessons. In these lessons the students, while they carried out the experiments, benefited from a high level of individual attention from their teacher. The experimental work was completed safely and the students showed good capability in working together. They showed familiarity with laboratory procedures and with the conduct of experimental work.
Interaction between the inspector and the students revealed that they were interested in Science and in Chemistry. They displayed generally good levels of knowledge and understanding in the topics that were being undertaken. Observation showed that the students were generally engaged by the lesson activities. Where relevant, suggestions were offered during lesson feedback on how engagement could be maximised throughout the lesson.
Discipline was maintained in all lessons and there was a generally good rapport among students and between students and their teachers. A particularly noteworthy feature in a number of lessons was the extensive and consistent use of affirmation to acknowledge and encourage students’ participation and this is to be commended.
There are appropriate arrangements in place in the school for regularly assessing students and for reporting periodically to their parents.
Samples of students’ experimental copybooks showed that a satisfactory amount of experimental work has been completed. From the copybooks it was evident that experimental work is a feature of students’ learning in Science and in Chemistry. Students gain valuable feedback on their practical skills while they are performing their experimental work as their teachers circulate during the lessons and provide individual guidance and advice. They also gain feedback from their teachers who monitor the write up of the experimental work. The previous subject inspection of Science and Chemistry recommended that strategies that give credit for student performance of practical work be developed over time. Thus, it is timely now for the science teachers to develop, document and implement a range of methods for formally assessing and giving feedback to students on their practical skills. A number of suggestions as to how practical assessment might be implemented were discussed during the post-evaluation meeting with the principal and they met with favourable consideration.
An analysis of students’ copybooks showed that while homework is generally given regularly there were some classes for which the amount of homework assigned was generally small. In addition, a number of students said that homework had been assigned infrequently. This issue was pursued with the class teachers who explained that a number of classes had been taught by post graduate diploma in education students. The teachers agreed that more careful monitoring of the work of such student teachers is required in the future. To assist with this it would be of benefit if the science teachers discussed, agreed, and documented their homework practices. For example, they should develop a short written statement to outline the types of homework to be given: written, learning, research, practically-based, creative, design; the frequency with which homework is to be given; how homework will be monitored and how frequently; how homework will be corrected: orally in class, by students themselves, by the teacher; the type of feedback to be given on homework and how this will help students to improve their learning, and the credit or reward that will be given for completion of homework and for homework of good quality.
Students’ outcomes in Science and in Chemistry in the State examinations are satisfactory. It is recommended that the science teachers undertake annually an analysis of students’ results in the State examinations. This practice will serve to affirm the good work done by the teachers in preparing their students for the State examinations and will also prove useful in identifying trends in results which should inform the subject-planning process.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published June 2009