An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Chemistry
Douglas Community School
Roll number: 91396R
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Chemistry
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Douglas Community School, Cork. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science and 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 laboratories 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 was given the opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix to this report.
Douglas Community School provides post-primary education for boys in the south-eastern suburbs of Cork city. Managementsí support for the provision of Science and Chemistry is good. Science is a core subject in junior cycle and Biology, Chemistry and Physics are offered as optional subjects for Transition Year (TY) and for Leaving Certificate, the TY sciences being delivered as half-year taster modules initially, following which students choose their options. The uptake for all senior cycle sciences is good. Significantly, the time allocation for the Leaving Certificate sciences is in line with the class-contact time recommended in the syllabuses. The commitment of both management and teachers is also evidenced by the provision of three well-organised and adequately resourced laboratories for the sciences. Management provides funding for the purchasing of resources on a needs basis. In addition, the bright laboratories afford a visually stimulating environment through the display of scientific posters and in some instances plants. This is commended.
Continuity of learning is facilitated in the school as classes, which are of mixed ability in the main, retain the same teacher throughout junior cycle and again throughout senior cycle. This is applauded. Students with additional needs are well supported in junior cycle, small class groups enhancing the provision in meeting the needs of individual students. Occasionally, an additional teacher is deployed for specific lessons with these class groups, a strategy that is highly commended as it further increases the support for these students.
A taster system operates for the first term in TY, thus assisting students in making informed choices for Leaving Certificate. The two guidance counsellors, the principal and subject teachers advise student. Parents are informed through the parentsí meeting. This is commended. The option blocks for Leaving Certificate are devised in such a manner that students have the opportunity to study three sciences if they so wish as clashes between subjects form the same disciplines are avoided, Subject choice is made at Christmas in TY. However, it is understood that if necessary, changes can be made prior to fifth year, a practice that is endorsed. Commendably, students are encouraged to do higher level in the sciences.
All students have weekly access to the laboratories. It is good to note that in addition to school timetabling, access is also organised by the science teachers who collaboratively draw up a laboratory timetable at the beginning of each year. Storage and preparation areas adjoin each laboratory. In each area, equipment and materials are stored in an organised manner. This is applauded. Very good work has been done on the storage of chemicals that are stored in accordance with best practice and Department of Education and Science guidelines. There is a good level of safety equipment, such as fire extinguishers, safety blankets and safety glasses, in the laboratories. Commendably science laboratory rules are on display. It is understood that the science department has devised its own safety statement, again providing more evidence of the departmentís emphasis on safety.
Each laboratory contains a computer and a data projector and data logging equipment is also available. Access to the information and communication technologies (ICT) suite is available when required. Significantly, the internet can be accessed in the laboratories. The provision of such facilities is noteworthy. Teachers are encouraged to expand the use of ICT as appropriate to support the teaching and learning process.
Management is commended on the commitment given to facilitate continuing professional development. The teachers have had the opportunity to attend in-career development in the sciences and whole-staff development workshops in school have also taken place. Management also supports membership of the Irish Science Teachersí Association.
A vast array of co-curricular and extracurricular science activities, including fieldtrips and quizzes, is employed to expand studentsí scientific experience and consolidate their learning. In addition, students have been furnished with the opportunity to attend DNA workshops in University College Cork and have participated in events such as the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition and the robotics competition. The continued commitment of teachers to the organisation of these very valuable activities is a key element of the studentsí school experience and is to be highly commended
A good level of co-operation and planning in Douglas Community School has resulted in the development of a science plan and a systematic approach to planning for and organisation of resources. The science department meets formally at the beginning of the school year and also meets informally throughout the year. The science plan incorporates a common programme of work for Junior Certificate Science. This is good practice as it provides for standardisation of the subject across the school and facilitates the sharing of resources. It is good to note that a chemistry plan containing the programme of work has also been devised. To build on this good work, it is recommended that the programmes of work for Science and Chemistry be extended over time to include timeframes, such as was observed in a number of individual teacher plans, suggested resources and modes of assessment. Commendably, a science co-ordinator acts as the link between management and the science department, and chairs planning meetings. It is suggested that in line with best practice, minutes be taken of the decisions taken at these meetings.
TY plans of work in Biology and Chemistry and a outline of topics in Physics were made available for inspection during the course of the evaluation. The TY physics plan should be further developed to include for example teaching methodologies, resources and modes of assessment in accordance with the good practice that is in place for Biology and Chemistry. While the programmes contain some Leaving Certificate material, it is understood that in one instance, it is planned that students study a module of Forensics. This is commended, as it is in line with TY philosophy and with the Department of Education and Science Circulars and Guidelines. It is of further concern that there is some evidence that once students have made their subject choices in TY, the content covered at this stage is more Leaving Certificate orientated. Teachers should therefore explore other strategies, such as a thematic, historical or problem-solving approach, so that the teaching of any Leaving Certificate material is significantly different from the way in which it is dealt with for Leaving Certificate.
Individual programmes of work and comprehensive folders and filing cabinets of resources including electronic resources have been compiled. This is applauded. Teachers are to be commended for the fine level of work and collaboration involved to date in the area of subject planning, including the sharing of individually compiled electronic resources. Evidence of advance and high quality planning and preparation for the lessons observed has been seen during this evaluation. Teaching materials, including equipment, ICT resources and handouts, which suited the needs and abilities of the students, were introduced to the lessons at appropriate times.
Lessons were well structured and the pace was generally good. Where the lesson objective was outlined at the outset, it was effective in focusing studentsí attention on the learning intention. Consideration should be given to utilising this approach in all lessons. Commendably, almost all lessons concluded with a plenary session that involved review and consolidation of studentsí learning, a practice that is encouraged.
Appropriate use of the board and other visual stimuli was observed in the lessons. Good use of information and communication technologies (ICT) facilitated studentsí engagement and allowed the teacher to focus on the students. This is highly commended. The significant points of the lessons were recorded both using the board and the ICT. To further develop learning and teaching approaches, which would make the curriculum more accessible to students with English as an additional language, the school could contact Integrate Ireland Language and Training www.iilt.ie, which provides support for teachers in this regard. Where two teachers were involved in teaching, it was seamless and successfully promoting studentsí learning. Almost all students were actively engaged throughout the lessons observed by means of a range of activities including questioning, short practical activities, drawing diagrams and short written assignments.
Question and answer sessions were successfully utilised at the beginning of many lessons in order to examine studentsí learning and to consolidate previously learnt material, thus effectively providing a link with the preceding lesson. Very good use was made of interactive classroom discussion to generate studentsí interest and to develop lesson content. The introduction and development of new content was enhanced by strategic use of effective questioning, clear teacher explanation and, in one instance, student activity and teacher demonstration. In one lesson students were sketching a diagram as instructed while the teacher expanded the explanation of the concept. It is recommended that students focus on one activity at a time in order that understanding can be more easily developed.
Good use was made of studentsí previous knowledge to develop the lesson content. In some instances the questions were framed in such a manner that all students were confident in their answers and the teacher supported students as they formulated answers, thus providing encouragement for students as they participated in the lesson. This is commended. The policy of directing questions to individual students is noted as good practice. In a lesson on pressure, continued reinforcement of studentsí understanding of the concept occurred throughout the lesson through intermittent questioning, short student activities and teacher demonstration. In addition, a range of illustrations were employed and in these instances students were asked to give a scientific explanation for the illustration. This is excellent.
The completion of examination questions by students for homework, in advance of the lesson, followed by teacher questioning that facilitated the broadening of studentsí answers, provided helpful revision of the topic. This is commended. Consideration should also be given to employing a variety of other approaches when revising topics. For example, approaches such as peer correction of examination questions and student presentations that focused on the key concepts of a specific topic and placemats could also be utilised.
Very good linkage of science with everyday life was observed in many lessons thus making the topic relevant and tangible. Examples included the use of dry ice in concerts, tyres for racing and mountain bikes and the reference to the television programme ĎEcoeyeí in which carbon monoxide was highlighted as the silent killer.
A positive atmosphere pertained in all lessons and it was evident that there was mutual respect and a very good rapport between students and the teacher, thus facilitating studentsí learning. Classroom management was effective and discipline was maintained in a sensitive manner. In all lessons students were comfortable asking questions. Students were attentive, interested and generally participated well in the learning process. Students received individual attention from their teachers and their contributions to the lessons were welcomed and appropriately addressed.
Homework was given in the lessons observed, thus providing an opportunity for students to consolidate their learning. There was good evidence of learning as students were confident and capable of answering questions put to them during the course of the visit.
Overall, there is a good quality of teaching and learning in Science and Chemistry in Douglas Community School.
A range of assessment modes is used to assess studentsí competence and progress. These include oral questioning, mid-term assessments and twice-yearly formal examinations. In some instances written homework, some of which is monitored, is employed to consolidate studentsí learning and topic tests are used to ascertain studentsí learning. This is commended. Significantly, there is evidence of the employment of alternative modes of assessment such as project work and assessment of studentsí practical activities in TY, a practice that is encouraged. The setting of common Christmas and summer examination papers by some teachers is applauded. Such practice is to be encouraged as it helps to establish a common direction for the subject, whilst ensuring consistency and cohesiveness within the department, and so consideration should be given to the extension of this practice.
Practical notebooks are generally of a good standard and are closely monitored. Some studentsí practical notebooks illustrated a number of good examples of the desirable practice of teacher annotation, which reflects the principle of assessment for learning (afl). Further information on afl can be accessed at www.ncca.ie. It is recommended that the practice of assessing studentsí practical and project work, as a component of the end-of-term examinations and which is utilised in some instances, be introduced to all year groups in junior cycle. Such practice is encouraged as it reflects the assessment objectives of the syllabus, and an aggregate mark that includes a number of components of the examination provides a more accurate indicator of the studentís ability in the subject.
Teachers record attendance rates, assessment results, and practical work records. This good practice helps to build a profile of studentsí engagement, progress and achievement in the subject over a period of time. A good level of contact is maintained between the school and parents. Results are communicated to parents and students four times a year and at each year group's annual parent-teacher meeting. The student's journal is also utilised as a means of communication between teachers and parents/guardians. Appointments can be made by individual parents as necessary.
It is good to note that the school has a written homework policy. The school has a policy of analysing state examination results and the results of this analysis are relayed to subject teachers and management.
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 Chemistry and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
School Response to the Report
Submitted by the Board of Management
†††††††††††† Inspection Report School Response Form
††††††††††† Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report
The Board of Management welcomes this report on the teaching of Science and Chemistry which affirms the high quality of the teaching, educational supports, equipment and materials provided by the school management.† We particularly welcome the acknowledgement of the extensive ICT facilities, including Datalogging used in the teaching of Science and Chemistry in the school. We acknowledge the professional manner in which the inspection visit was conducted and the support for, and affirmation of, good practice by the inspector.
The Board of Management commends the commitment of the schoolís teachers of Science and particularly Chemistry teacher to their work. The Board welcomes the reportís findings and recommendations which will inform our ongoing review of good practice as part of our continuing work on school development planning.
Area 2†† Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The Board notes the overall positive findings of the report and welcomes the recommendations made by the inspector.
These recommendations have already been implemented as follows:
The programmes of work for Science and Chemistry are under regular review and will be developed further to include timeframes, suggested resources and modes of assessment.
TY science modules have been reviewed.
Science faculty meeting will record decisions taken.
Project and practical work will be assessed as part of the examination of junior cycle science.