An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science
Meán Scoil Nua an Leith Triúigh
Castlegregory, County Kerry
Roll number: 68075O
Date of inspection: 18 September 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Meán Scoil Nua an Leith Triúigh, Castlegregory. 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 two days during which the inspector visited laboratories and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and the teacher, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and the teacher’s written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teacher. 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.
Whole-school support for the sciences is good. Junior Certificate Science is a core subject and all students who choose to take the Transition Year (TY) programme study Science. This is good practice. Agricultural Science, Biology, and Physics and Chemistry are offered as optional subjects in senior cycle and option blocks are subsequently based on students’ preferences. This is commended. Currently, Agricultural Science and Biology are timetabled and the uptake is good. Management and the science department should continue work together in an attempt to enhance students’ interests in the physical sciences.
The time allocation for the science subjects is less than the class-contact time recommended in the syllabuses. Currently Junior Certificate science classes are only timetabled for single lessons each week. This hinders the use of the investigative approach to practical work. It is recommended that the timetabling issues of time allocation and lack of double lessons be addressed in future years. All classes are which are of mixed ability and have laboratory access each week and have an even spread of classes over the week. This is good practice.
A fine level of contact is maintained between the science department and the learning-support teachers, thus striving to ensure that the needs of the students are met. To further support students’ learning in the sciences, consideration should be given to the compilation of key terms by the science department for use by the learning-support teachers.
Commendably, with the support of management, the science department has utilised the opportunities provided to undertake professional development in the sciences. The commitment to exploring new teaching methodologies and sharing expertise is evident by for example, the willingness of the science department to participate in an action research project directed by the Second Level Support Service (SLSS). This is praiseworthy. It is noteworthy that the management and the science staff recognise the value of sharing professional dialogue with colleagues from other schools. To facilitate this communication, the school supports the teacher’s membership of the Irish Science Teachers’ Association.
The school is well resourced for the teaching of the sciences, with one well-equipped laboratory and adjoining storage and preparation areas. It is commendable that the science department is supported financially by management for the updating, repair and enhancement of existing resources. Access to information and communication technology (ICT) is good. The laboratory contains an overhead projector, a laptop computer, a data projector and data logging equipment. The computer room is also available for the teaching of the sciences. The scientific learning environment is visually stimulating. Scientific posters and models and displays of students’ work contribute to this atmosphere.
The practice of organising equipment into ‘topic kits’ is commended. Some work has been done in this regard. The science department should advance this work in order to store all of the equipment in an appropriate manner.
There is a high level of safety equipment in the laboratories and safety rules are on display. This is praiseworthy. Significant work has been done in the safe storage of chemicals. Building on this good work, it is recommended that the chemicals be colour coded for ease of safe storage in line with Departmental guidelines and that a list of the storage classifications be available for consultation. The chemical store should be vented appropriately.
The school has a health and safety statement, which was reviewed in 2009. Building on this fine work, the existing health and safety statement should be extended to include all areas of the school premises, such as specialist rooms and outline hazards, risks and control procedures.
A good level of provision is made for co-curricular and extracurricular science activities, including fieldtrips and participation in science week activities. Those involved are to be praised for their commitment to facilitating these educational activities.
It is praiseworthy that a comprehensive overarching science policy has been developed. It includes the identification of resources for the teaching of the specific topics in Biology and Junior Certificate Chemistry. This good work should be further developed to include resource sections for the specific units in Junior Certificate Biology and Physics. The agricultural science plan should also be integrated into the overarching science policy. Programmes of work on a term-by-term basis have been included in Science and Biology. Building on this fine work, these programmes should be further developed over time, to include for example specific timeframes for each named topic, learning outcomes and teaching and learning strategies.
An outline TY science plan has been devised. The inclusion of teaching and learning and assessment strategies is commended. However, it is recommended that the TY plan be further developed to include timeframes and the resources to be used. In addition the assessment strategies should be linked to the specific topics to be covered. Consideration should be given to the use of TY modules such as the Science of Sport, Forensic Science Module, Aspirin, and Microbiology and the use of methodologies such as thematic, historical or problem-solving approaches.
Departmental planning and the management of resources are commendably undertaken by the co-ordinator. Minutes of department meetings, including action plans are recorded. This is good practice.
Lessons observed were found to reflect the syllabus requirements. Preparation for classes was noted as being at a very high standard.
There is good quality teaching and learning in Science as was evident by the clear communication of content and the appropriate use of a variety of methodologies in the lessons. Lessons were coherently structured, there was logical progression from one section of a lesson to the next and the pace was generally good. Effective continuity between lessons was achieved through review of students’ learning at the outset and reference to the following lesson during the plenary sessions.
Questioning was used very effectively to engage students in the learning activity, to check students’ understanding and previous knowledge and to develop lesson content. The policy of directing questions to individual students is noted as good practice.
Good linkage with science applications in everyday life successfully anchored the topic and engendered interest among the students. Of particular note was the attention given to developing students’ understanding of key words in one lesson.
Practical work formed the kernel of each lesson observed. The lessons were well organised and there was a commendable emphasis on safety. Students were encouraged to work collaboratively and were well supported by their teacher as they performed their practical activities. There was some evidence of the use of the investigative approach to Science through inquiry-based questions. In accordance with syllabus requirements, this approach should be used to a greater extent. Following students’ practical activities, plenary sessions were successfully employed in the main to consolidate students’ learning.
The students had a good attitude towards Science as displayed by the level of attention and engagement observed during lessons. Students were generally confident and capable of answering questions put to them and displayed a good understanding in the main. Examination of students’ laboratory notebooks indicated a range of presentation and scientific language skills. A very good standard of work was observed in some of these notebooks. The school should develop whole-school strategies that would enhance all students’ writing and presentation skills.
Classroom management was excellent and a pleasant and positive atmosphere was predominant. The lessons advanced in an atmosphere that was highly conducive to learning and very good teacher-student rapport existed. This rapport was grounded in a sense of mutual respect. Students’ participation was warmly welcomed and encouraged and effective use was made of affirmation.
Commendably, a range of assessment modes is utilised in the teaching and learning of the sciences. Formal whole-school examinations are held twice-yearly for all class groups. Ongoing assessment of students’ progress is ascertained via regular topic tests and questioning during lessons. School management conducts an analysis of the Leaving and Junior Certificate results.
The inclusion of practical work in the scheme of continuous assessment is commended, as it provides motivation for engagement by all students with the practical element of the course and reflects syllabus objectives. All students had a laboratory notebook in which they recorded all their investigative work. Commendably, there was evidence of monitoring of these notebooks.
Homework was used to consolidate in-class work and there was some evidence of annotated homework. This is good practice. It is noteworthy that the draft homework policy provides guidelines on the most effective approaches to homework. During discussion with management, it was agreed to pursue the ratification of this policy. Consideration should be given to the use of assessment for learning (AfL) methodologies, in particular those elements that promote the development of self-evaluation and independent learning skills among the students.
Communication with parents is very good. Letters are sent home during the year giving advice about homework and emphasising its importance in addition to providing information on other matters pertaining to the students’ lives in the school. Parents are made aware of students’ progress by means of twice-yearly reports and at the annual parent-teacher meeting. Other modes of contact with parents are used as necessary.
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