An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Physics
Rice College Westport County Mayo
Roll number: 64700O
Date of inspection: 12 November 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Physics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Rice College, Westport. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science and Physics 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, deputy principal and the 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.
Provision for the sciences in Rice College, Westport is very good with a high priority accorded to the sciences. All junior cycle students study Science in mixed-ability groups and Biology, Physics and Chemistry are included in the senior cycle. There is commendable liaison between the science teachers and the school’s special education and learning support department. The school’s provision for Transition Year Science follows good practice in giving equal weight to Physics, Chemistry and Biology. A feature of the TY is its innovative environmental awareness module that is aimed at giving students of the school and of the Sacred Heart Secondary School an awareness of the importance of water in their lives.
The time allocation for the science subjects is appropriate with double lesson periods provided for student experimental work for all classes. Teachers co-operate in ensuring that all students have weekly access to the school’s laboratories. In order to increase the number of weekly exposures of students to Science the school should timetable just one double lesson period for each class.
The members of the science department have a broad and complementary range of subject expertise and co-operation between them is facilitated through having their classrooms close together. Science teachers new to the school are supported through advice and assistance from the established teachers. The science department should consider, building on its existing and future planning work, preparing a brief guideline for induction of teachers new to the work of the department so as to help in ensuring continuity for students when there are necessary changes of teachers. The school is active in supporting the continuing professional development (CPD) of staff and members of the science department have benefited from a wide range of CPD opportunities, some of them arranged by themselves. This is clear testament to the commitment of the teachers to providing the best possible education in Science for their students.
The school has good facilities for the teaching and learning of the sciences. The chemistry laboratory is in very good condition and the physics laboratory will shortly require some minor upgrading. The current practice of storing glassware and other equipment in the laboratory should be reviewed. The school is adhering to good practice with regard to the storage of chemicals. The department should consider having a systematic procedure for stock control and identification of resource needs. While acknowledging the school’s accommodation issues and the efforts made to address them, the practice of having non-science classes in the laboratories should be ended as soon as resources allow.
The very good facilities for ICT available to the science department are used to good effect. The science teaching areas have lots of visual stimuli, consisting of displays of students’ work, charts and pictures. The school should, as part of ongoing subject department planning, plan for having sufficient laboratory equipment so that students can perform independently all required practical work in small groups. The school adheres to good practice in that its safety statement is regularly reviewed and includes risk assessments for the science teaching areas.
A high level of co-operation, collaboration and sharing exists among the members of the science department. Senior management supports the department by facilitating regular formal meetings of the department. The meetings review the progress of students and class groups and develop a consistent approach among the members of the department. As part of this the teachers discuss teaching approaches and methodologies. A subject co-ordinator has been appointed. The position of subject co-ordinator should be developed further perhaps through rotating it regularly among the members of the department and including within its remit the co-ordination of subject-department planning.
Common planning has taken place over a wide range of areas including topics to be covered in the science programmes for each year. Commendably these programmes are reviewed on an annual basis and changes made in the light of experience. The department should, over time as part of its collaborative planning, expand further the work that has already been done through documenting each of its programmes in terms of the desired learning objectives and setting out resources, experimental work, teaching and learning methodologies, and assessments in support of each learning objective. Planning documentation should allow for teachers’ reflections and should indicate timescales. A possible theme for the TY plan should be the development of students’ laboratory skills so as to help prepare them for Leaving Certificate science. In the first-year science programme there could be an emphasis on the development of students’ skills in practical work, in report writing, and in the presentation of their work.
In the context of the school’s commitment to the development of the use of ICT in support of teaching and learning the science department should catalogue its teaching resources and consider the development of a common ICT folder for science teaching resources.
Planning and preparation had taken place for each lesson observed and resources required were readily to hand. The content and pace of each lesson was appropriate to the class group, the subject matter and to the time available. Where very good practice was observed lessons commenced with a sharing of the learning objectives with students and concluded with a summarising of these at the end of the lesson. This was coupled with the use of a range of different methodologies that addressed the different learning styles of students. Data projectors were available for use in the presentation of lessons and in one lesson a highly effective presentation was used to introduce the lesson.
Where very good practice was seen in lessons the teacher continually checked students’ understanding of the lesson topic. In order to enhance the level of participation of students in lessons and to reduce the extent to which lessons are centred on the teacher, a range of questioning styles should be used. (See NCCA website for guidelines on assessment for learning.) Where the textbook was used effectively, it was used in support of students’ learning rather than as the principal classroom teaching resource.
In all lessons frequent references were made to the application of the topic of the lesson in students’ lives. Evidence was seen in students’ notebooks of their performance of experimental work as required by the syllabus. Students have notebooks for class notes, homework, and records of practical work carried out. Teachers should plan for having common practices for the role of students’ notebooks and workbooks.
In all lessons observed students were fully engaged in the lesson and were learning. Classroom management was highly effective in each lesson and there was good rapport between teachers and students. Students were being affirmed. There was evidence of differentiation of teaching and learning in some lessons and of the needs of individual students being addressed.
The science department shows very good practice in having an assessment policy and as part of this students undergo regular assessment in Science as well as end-of-term and mock examinations. The department collaborates so as to have common assessments at the end of each term and students’ laboratory work is also rewarded in assessments. The department should consider also including credit for performance of homework in end-of-term examinations.
In further developing their work in the area of assessment the department should develop a policy on the monitoring and assessment of students’ practical work that would outline procedures for commenting on that work, marking that work, and ensuring that students amend work in line with teacher comments. In doing this teachers are encouraged to give feedback to students that, as well as commenting on their work, also indicates what they should do to achieve better outcomes.
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 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.
Published March 2009