An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood)
Killorglin Community College
Killorglin, County Kerry
Roll number: 70460G
Date of inspection: 20 November 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood)
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Killorglin Community College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Construction Studies (CS) and Materials Technology (Wood) (MTW) 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 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 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.
The technologies are represented in the schoolís junior cycle curriculum by Metalwork, Technical Graphics (TG) and MTW while in senior-cycle Engineering, Design and Communication Graphics (DCG) and CS are offered. The provision of this broad range of technology subjects is commended.
There is very good provision for the use of information and communications technology (ICT) in teaching and learning in the school. The school is commended for the integration of ICT in teaching and learning. It is noteworthy that all first-year and second-year students have been facilitated through a laptop initiative to own personal laptop computers and use them in their learning.
The continuing professional development (CPD) of staff is supported and encouraged by management. The provision by the school for whole-staff CPD is commended. Areas covered in this CPD include support for students with additional educational needs, teaching the reluctant learner, the integration of ICT in classroom practice and various other aspects of school development planning. In addition, the teachers of the technologies, including MTW and CS are commended for taking full advantage of the CPD opportunities presented through the support service for technology subjects (T4), the National Centre for Technology in Education (NCTE) and the Teacher Professional Networks (TPN). Involvement in this CPD, which had a strong focus on the use of Solid Works computer-aided design software in the teaching of the technologies, has been valuable as a source of skills enhancement for the greater use of ICT in the classroom.
The timetabling arrangements for MTW and CS are very good in the context of the broad education provided by the school. The time allocated for the teaching of MTW and CS is sufficient for the completion of the respective syllabuses in the subjects. Four periods per week are allocated for MTW in each year of junior cycle while six periods per week are allocated for CS in senior cycle. The time is arranged appropriately as a combination of single and double period lessons. Lessons are also appropriately distributed across the timetable for each week.
The deployment of teachers across the range of technology subjects for which they are qualified provides opportunities for teachers to share their skills and interests and to rotate the teaching of subjects in this area of the curriculum. The resources provided for the teaching of MTW and CS are of a very high standard. The supply of hand tools and equipment for the use of students has been recently replenished. This, in combination with the very well-maintained facilities in the woodwork room provides every support for the students in developing their woodwork skills to the optimum. Space within the woodwork room is restricted unnecessarily by a large bench saw with a sliding table suitable for cutting large panels. This piece of equipment is not required for preparation of class material and, because of its size, effectively divides the room in two. It is recommended that this saw be removed and replaced by a more suitable model. Wood preparation is done in the woodwork room itself which is fitted with a dust-extraction system. There is also a store adjacent to the woodwork room. A plan developed with Kerry Education Service (KES), the vocational education committee in Kerry, for the further improvement of the woodwork facilities involves the relocation of the woodwork room within the school building and the incorporation of a separate materials preparation area and store. Management at all levels is commended for its proactive approach to this proposed improvement of the teaching facilities for the subjects. Funding provided by the Department under Circular Letters PBU 5/2005 and PBU 0085/2006 for the upgrade of health and safety standards in the woodwork room is being used appropriately. ††
The subject plans for MTW and CS include notes on the provision for health and safety in the woodwork room. As a next step in the further improvement of the plans, it is recommended that these notes be expanded to refer to hazard identification, risk assessment and risk control as presented in section 3.5 of Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post-primary Schools (State Claims Agency, Department of Education and Science, 2005), available on http://www.education.ie/servlet/blobservlet/review_oh_safety_tech.pdf. Attention is also drawn to the recommendations of section 4.6 of the aforementioned report which deal with machinery safety, including machines which should be prohibited from student use. The resulting more detailed notes in the subject plans on health and safety in the woodwork room should be submitted to school management for inclusion in the schoolís health and safety statement at its next annual review.
There is a commendable emphasis during lessons on the importance of health and safety and this forms an integral part of the culture of the technologies in the school. To further improve awareness, it is recommended that the procedures and precautions for the safe use of specific machines be displayed adjacent to the machines to which they refer. It is also recommended that informational sign boards be displayed that explain the purpose of the safe operational areas marked around machines and the resultant implications for movement within the woodwork room.
MTW is a prominent feature of the Junior Certificate programme, and is studied by almost half of the students in junior cycle. The uptake of MTW by a number of female students in the current first-year classes is noted. This is a commendable development and it is urged that every effort be made in the future to improve the gender balance in the uptake of both MTW and CS.
MTW and CS are provided as optional subjects in junior cycle and senior cycle respectively. MTW and CS are taught in mixed-ability settings in the school and students choose to study the subjects at higher or ordinary level in consultation with their teacher. Students are provided with the opportunity to experience each of the optional subjects at the beginning of first year to support an informed subject-choice process. It is commended that subject-option groups are designed to meet the preferences of students in both cycles. This process takes place during the first term of the first year and towards the end of the third year in advance of the transition to senior cycle. Advice and support is provided regarding subject choice by the guidance counsellor, the principal and the deputy principal and by the appropriate year head and subject teacher. To further develop the subject-choice process, it is urged that an opportunity be provided for the students and their parents to receive a comprehensive presentation on the choices available. This should then facilitate a full discussion of subject options in a broad guidance context.
There has been commendable progress in introducing subject-department planning as a central element of development planning in the school. Planning in MTW and CS has resulted in the development of comprehensive subject plans. Reference is made under the heading Cross Curricular Planning to the desirability of meetings between the teachers of all the technologies in the school. The recorded outcome of one such meeting, which dealt with arrangements for the use of the drawing rooms for all the technologies, is included in the subject plan. This approach to collaborative planning is commended and it is recommended that it be further developed towards setting up a subject department for the technologies. The teachers of all the technology subjects in the school are urged to agree procedures for filling the position of coordinator of the technologies, perhaps in rotation annually. There are many advantages to adopting this approach to subject department planning including sharing the professional experience of the teachers of the technologies and providing for continuity in planning for the subjects into the future.
The content to be covered in each year of the MTW and CS courses outlined in the subject plans is broadly consistent with the respective syllabuses. It is recommended however, as a next step in the further improvement of the subject plan, that particular content to be covered in lessons be linked specifically to the most suitable teaching and learning approaches, strategies and methodologies. This will require more detailed programmes of work. Links should be made with the teaching methodologies listed under Effective Teaching Methodologies in the subject plan. It is urged that the teachers of the technologies share their experiences of approaches and methodologies that have been most successful and add these to the methodologies listed. Consideration should also be given to the use of more student-centred learning methodologies involving group work or cooperative learning. Information on these approaches can be accessed at the Second Level Support Service, www.slss.ie. Given the very good ICT facilities available to students, it is urged that students be introduced to the use of Solid Works at the earliest opportunity as a tool for project design in MTW and CS. Detailed planning for this introduction should be included in the subject plan.
The lessons observed in the course of the inspection were coherent, showing evidence of good lesson planning. In a third-year lesson the students were engaged in making a double box dovetail joint. While the need to undertake joint making in preparation for the realisation of a design project is acknowledged, it is recommended that care be taken when planning the programme of work that the making of such a joint does not become an end in itself. The syllabus states: The design and execution of any joint will be in the context of making an artefact (a practice joint which precedes the application will sometimes be desirable particularly for the inexperienced pupil). Student project design should be introduced at the earliest stage in the MTW programme of work and should remain central to the studentís experience of the subject. It is also recommended that the level of difficulty of the work planned for execution in a mixed-ability setting be differentiated to suit the ability of individual students; for example, the single box dovetail, or another method of jointing, could be substituted for the double box dovetail joint as the need arises.† †††
Appropriate materials were prepared in advance and all necessary equipment and tools were to hand. A range of teaching resources was used in the lessons observed including ICT materials presented by means of the data projector and laptop computer, a poster showing a dimensioned drawing of a woodwork joint and photocopied orthographic drawings. This level of planning and preparation is commended.
The aims of the lessons observed were made clear to the students from the outset. Continuity with previous learning was maintained. The introduction to a CS lesson on heat in buildings very effectively placed the topic firmly in the context of a real building to which the students could relate.
The pace of the lessons observed was generally appropriate for the level of difficulty of the content and the abilities of the students. Occasionally, however, the mixed-ability nature of practical MTW classes meant that some students were less challenged and finished too quickly while other students failed to keep pace with the work. It is recommended in such cases that the work being undertaken be differentiated to take account of individual studentsí abilities. The challenge presented by classes of students who are studying the subject at both levels is acknowledged and this challenge is best met by adopting a student-centred approach driven by student-design projects which are differentiated in their level of difficulty to take account of individual student interest and ability. Questioning was skilfully used on occasion to elicit information relating to the studentsí prior knowledge. The questioning was directed to individual students and was suitably differentiated to involve all the students in the lesson. It is urged that such directed and differentiated questioning be used in all lessons, including practical lessons.
The methodology most commonly adopted in the lessons observed involved group demonstration of practical setting-out and processing skills by the teacher followed by the close monitoring of studentsí completion of the work. The demonstrations were of a very high standard and of appropriate length. The attention paid to ensuring quality in the presentation of traditional woodwork skills and tool use was of great benefit to students and very good teaching took place in this context. As the students worked the teacher moved among them providing affirmation or offering encouragement and help as appropriate. It is urged, that where needed, the composition of demonstration groups be varied to aid the differentiation of work to suit the range of abilities of the students. In one of the lessons observed, the help of a student was enlisted to demonstrate the processing of a sloping saw cut in a dovetail. This use of peer demonstration was very effective and this approach in smaller group demonstrations is encouraged. Students participated fully in the lessons observed and this was further encouraged by the enthusiasm of their teachers. It is urged that further development of classroom practice focus on increasing opportunities for students to be more active in their own learning by means of further development of more student-centred approaches to complement the present very effective teacher-led approaches.
Classroom management was very effective in each of the lessons observed. Routines for the distribution and collection of equipment, tools and materials were well established and effectively followed. Discipline was intrinsic to classroom management procedures and sensitively maintained. Attendance was routinely monitored and recorded. Rules for the woodwork room were very prominently displayed by means of a purpose-made poster. General acceptance of, and adherence to, the rules were clearly evident and the students also responded positively to the suggestions and instructions of the teacher. The classrooms visited were conducive in their layout to providing a safe, orderly and participative environment.
All interactions between students and teachers in the lessons visited were based on an established rapport and on positive relationships. The atmosphere was pleasant and appropriately relaxed while focussed on the work being done. The woodwork room was bright and welcoming and included interesting and visually stimulating subject-related displays including photographic records of student project work in CS and MTW. The lessons observed benefited from the environment conducive to effective learning in which they took place. Students were appropriately knowledgeable and showed good understanding of the material they were studying when responding to their teachersí questioning and the inspectorís enquiries.
In addition to formal school examinations held at Christmas and in summer, Studentsí progress in MTW is monitored continuously by regular assessment of their work, including class work and project work. Care should be taken to ensure that studentsí project-design work is taken into account fully in the continuous assessment process for the subject. Continuous assessment is given an assessment weighting of ten percent and this is then aggregated with the examination result. This approach to assessment is commended for its overall consistency with the assessment modes as outlined in the MTW syllabus. It is recommended that a similar assessment process be developed for students of CS.
It is also recommended that common approaches to assessment in the technologies be discussed by the teachers of the technology subjects. The policy on assessment in the technologies should include clear statements on the elements of studentsí work that will be included for continuous assessment. Students should then be kept regularly informed of their progress and the likely effect of these assessment grades on their end of term result. Such regular reporting to students reflects the growing whole-school emphasis on assessment for learning (AfL) strategies.
Less formal assessment was observed as an integral part of teaching and learning in each lesson in MTW and CS. In these lessons teachers spent appropriate amounts of time interacting with students as they worked. This interaction was focussed on assessing and affirming the studentsí progress and on providing direction and further instruction as appropriate. This strategy was used particularly within practical lessons. Further development of these assessment modes is encouraged to strengthen the focus on AfL strategies in lessons.
Records of studentsí attainment and attendance are kept in the teachersí diaries. This information is shared with parents at annual parent-teacher meetings and by means of school reports. The studentsí journals, in which students are encouraged to record all homework in the subjects, are available as a constant channel of communication with parents. It is recommended that the section of the subject plans headed Reporting Procedures be expanded to include the procedures already in place and that extra opportunities to further develop communication with parents be identified.
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 Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood) and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published October 2009