An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science
Presentation Secondary School
Sexton St, Limerick
Roll number: 64250J
Date of inspection: 7 October 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Presentation Secondary School, Limerick. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science 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 laboratories and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and the teacher, examined studentsí work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and the teacherís 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 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.
Presentation Secondary School is committed to the provision of science education and currently science subjects are made available in almost all of the programmes, including the Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) programme. All students, with the exception of those taking the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) take Science for Junior Certificate. In accordance with the recommendations made during the evaluation of the JCSP, it is strongly advised that Science be included in the curriculum for all junior cycle students including those following the JCSP programme. Commendably, the school offers Physics, Chemistry and Biology as optional subjects for Leaving Certificate. The subjects timetabled are based on the outcomes of an open subject process based on studentsí preferences, a practice that is commended. Biology, as demonstrated by the healthy uptake level in senior cycle is a popular subject in the school. Currently, Chemistry is an element of the fifth-year programme only, and Physics was not selected by either of the Leaving Certificate cohorts. In addition to the commendable science promotion activities currently taking place in the school, management and the science department should explore other mechanisms to increase studentsí uptake of the physical sciences for Leaving Certificate. The inclusion of science elective modules in the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme is commended, especially in view of their acceptance as an entry requirement for some beauty therapy courses.
The timetabling of Science is, in terms of time allocation, reasonably consistent with syllabus guidelines. The operation of a taster system for the optional subjects in first year has had a slight impact on available time, however the vision behind the taster programme offered to first-year students is applauded. The time allocation for Leaving Certificate Biology is lower than that recommended by the syllabus. It is advised that the school explore and implement strategies to solve these time allocation issues in future timetabling. In line with accepted good practice, science classes are generally distributed evenly throughout the school day and the school week.
Management is to be commended on the provision of a laboratory technician, who collaborates well with and supports the work of the science teachers. The organisation and management of the resources and facilities available for the teaching of the sciences is co-ordinated effectively by the laboratory technician. This is praiseworthy.
The sciences are very well resourced in the school and the facilities, including the two laboratories and the adjoining preparation and storage areas are well maintained. A good level of information and communication technology (ICT), including laptop computers and data projectors and broadband communication is available in the laboratories and the school is in the process of purchasing an interactive whiteboard. Such commitment to ensuring that a high standard of resources is available to support the teaching and learning of the sciences is commended. The laboratories provide a visually stimulating environment that is conducive to learning. Of particular note is the celebration of studentsí work through its display
There is a high level of safety equipment in the laboratories and preparation area. Safety rules are on display in the laboratories. Excellent work has been done to ensure the safe storage of chemicals. The school should ensure that appropriate ventilation is installed in the chemical store.
The school has a health and safety statement, which management stated is in need of review. The school is strongly encouraged to proceed with this review. It is recommended that the science department be consulted in order to ensure that the safety statement reflects the systems and practices in the science laboratories and adjoining preparation areas.
A fine level of informal contact exists among the individual science teachers and those involved in the delivery of additional support to the students. To further enhance the educational and social experiences of students with additional needs in science lessons, it is recommended that a formal communication process be established between the science department, the schoolís special- education support team and those providing language supports to students for whom English is an additional language. This communication should include discussions relating to differentiated teaching methodologies, strategies for the effective and ongoing inclusion of these students in the science lessons and should also facilitate feedback to the teachers providing additional supports. This mode of communication would also facilitate the sharing of the successful learning strategies used by the mainstream science teachers. The compilation of key terms by individual science teachers for use by the special-educational-needs department should be formalised.
Management encourages teachers to avail of all continuing professional development (CPD) training being offered. The teachers have attended in-career development in the sciences. This is commended. Whole-staff development days, including those focusing on assessment for learning (AfL) strategies have also taken place. Individual staff members participate in a mentoring project under the auspices of the University of Limerick. This is very good practice.
A good level of provision is made for co-curricular and extracurricular science activities including the organisation of science-based fun activities for junior cycle students during science week. It is commendable that close links have been developed with the locally-based third-level institutions. Those involved are to be praised for their commitment to facilitating these stimulating educational activities.
Presentation Secondary School has a very good resource in its science personnel. A very high level of co-operation and collaboration was evident in this cohesive science department. This was illustrated by, for example, the comprehensive folders of resources that had been compiled to support the teaching and learning of the sciences and that are shared by the science-department members. These teacher-generated resources include crosswords, word searches and acetates. It was reported that the development of the materials for the new PLC course in Forensic Science was shared among the members of the science department albeit that only one teacher is currently teaching the course. This utilisation of each individualís expertise and sharing of the work load in devising the course content and support materials is highly commended and is another example of the high level of collegiality that exists in the science department.
It is praiseworthy that a significant amount of work has been done in developing a common plan for Science. Planning documentation that has been devised by the science department includes a learning-outcomesí document, a long-term outline programme of work and more detailed plans in some instances that link the resources that can be used to specific topics. Building on this good work it is recommended that these separate documents be amalgamated and that the learning outcomes and specific timeframes be incorporated into the detailed plans that have been developed. These detailed plans should also be extended to the three years of junior cycle. It was good to note that a comprehensive range of resources and subject plans has been devised for LCA Science, Biology and Chemistry. This good work is commended. Consideration should be given to the development of a common template for all subject plans.
Formal departmental meetings are held on an annual basis. These meetings are minuted. These meetings are also supplemented by ongoing informal collaboration. Consideration should be given to recording the decisions made during the informal collaboration processes in order to have a more complete record of minutes.
The preparation and planning for the lessons observed was very good and led to successful teaching and learning. An impressive number of resources had been gathered and prepared for use in the delivery of lesson content. These included the development of studentsí worksheets, the sourcing and development of ICT resources and the organisation of equipment and chemicals.
There was a very high quality of teaching in evidence in the lessons observed. Lessons were well structured and paced, and teachers were cognisant of studentsí levels and abilities. A review of the work previously covered set the scene for most lessons. This proved very effective in terms of examining studentsí knowledge and understanding of the work previously covered, as well as providing continuity between lessons. The use of brainstorming at the outset of one lesson to ascertain studentsí previous knowledge of the topic was a very effective introduction to the concept of energy and successfully set the scene for the development of the lesson content.
Lesson aims and objectives were articulated in the lessons observed. Clear explanation of the learning outcomes at the beginning of the lesson would be a more useful approach in indicating the proposed learning that was intended, as these learning outcomes would provide students with a benchmark to evaluate their own learning. A return to the learning outcomes as lessons draw to a close is also recommended. Such a strategy would assist lesson summary, whilst providing evidence for the teachers, as well as the students, of the actual learning that has taken place.
Lessons were student centred and a range of methodologies was employed. Studentsí engagement and active participation was facilitated through the successful planning of lessons that resulted in short student activities being interspersed with whole-class questioning and teacher explanation. Practical lessons were very well organised and the teachers assisted and encouraged the students as they performed their practical activities. It was good to note that students worked in a collaborative manner and that there was good emphasis on safe laboratory practices. However, care should be taken to ensure that all of the students wear their safety glasses for the complete duration of the practical work. An increased emphasis on the investigative approach to experimental work is recommended. Worksheets were employed successfully to focus and direct the students as they performed practical activities. Following studentsí experimental work, plenary sessions were used successfully, in the main, to consolidate studentsí learning.
Effective questioning directed at named students was employed to evaluate studentsí prior learning and to reinforce recently learned subject matter. It was also used successfully to draw on studentsí previous knowledge of a topic and to aid the introduction of and subsequent broadening of that topic. This is commended.
There was evidence of the use of some innovative strategies to consolidate studentsí learning. For example, in one lesson excellent use was made of a video clip and a chemical song, which students were encouraged to sing in order to reinforce their learning of the theory of acids and bases. The introduction of this fun-element to the lesson enhanced studentsí enjoyment and is highly commended. In another lesson a video clip of the eye was used very successfully to develop the lesson content. Short sections of the video clip were appropriately interspersed with studentsí completion of written questions based on the section and whole-class discussion. Such an approach provides visual stimulation in addition to enhancing studentsí engagement and is commended. Significantly, in a third lesson, a PowerPoint presentation was used effectively to outline the significant points of the topic under consideration in addition to providing visual images.
Students with additional educational needs were included and engaged in the lessons observed. Class groups observed contained a diversity of students including newcomer students. There was clear evidence of a focus on the development of studentsí literacy. During the recapitulation session of one lesson, flash cards displaying the key words of the topic were shown to the students who were then requested to put these words into sentences using examples from the scientific-lesson content. This strategy was made more interesting by the employment of a team-competition approach to the task. This method of using the scientific content of the lesson to develop studentsí literacy and oral communication skills is very good practice.
A very good rapport between students and the teacher was evident and interactions among students and between teachers and students were grounded in mutual respect. Examples of good practice noted during the lessons included teachers encouraging and affirming studentsí efforts and teachers supporting students in their answers and in their written and practical work. A very positive atmosphere pertained that was conducive to studentsí learning and students were actively engaged in the learning activities.
In the lessons observed it was evident that the students were learning. Students understood the topics for study and in the main had a good knowledge of Science appropriate to their level. The basis of this judgement is the contributions that were being made by the students during the lessons, their level of interest and engagement in the activities and studentsí interaction with the teachers and the inspector.
The students had a good attitude towards Science as displayed by the interest and level of engagement observed during classes. Students were generally confident and capable of answering questions put to them during the course of the visit.
Formative assessment, for all classes, is carried out on an ongoing basis by questioning in class and by means of assigned homework. There was evidence of successful use of Assessment for Learning (AfL) strategies in one instance. Peer review of studentsí work was effective in ascertaining studentsí learning and simultaneously assisted the students in consolidating their own learning. This practice is highly commended.
Assessment methods at the school reflect normal procedures. Formal whole-school tests are held for non-examination classes at Christmas and summer following which a report is issued to parents. Examination classes sit pre-examinations in the spring. The use of common assessments in junior cycle is commended as it complements the common science plan and provides for standardisation across year groups. Consideration should be given to analysing the studentsí performances in the State examination, as this analysis could then inform discussions on planning, and teaching and learning.
All students had a laboratory workbook in which they recorded all their investigative work. The inclusion of practical work in the scheme of continuous assessment for the pre-examinations is commended. Building on this good practice it is recommended that this approach be extended to all junior cycle science examinations, as it provides motivation for engagement by all students with the practical element of the course and ensures regular monitoring of studentsí laboratory notebooks.
A good level of contact is maintained between the school and parents. In addition to reports, parent-teacher meetings are held annually for all classes.
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:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the science department and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, January 2010