An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physics
Loreto College Foxrock
Foxrock, County Dublin
Roll number: 60240J
Date of inspection: 11 and 12 March 2009
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN PHYSICS
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto College, Foxrock. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Physics 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 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 and subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an 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 of this report.
Science is a core subject in junior cycle at Loreto College Foxrock. There are currently five mixed-ability class groups for Science in each year of junior cycle. Physics, Chemistry and Biology form part of the Transition Year (TY) programme. However, students are required in March of third year to choose these subjects from option blocks. Nineteen TY students from a total TY cohort of 120 students have chosen Physics in the current year. It is recommended, that the current blocking of subjects for TY be discontinued so that all students have the opportunity to sample Physics in TY and make decisions in relation to subject choice at the end of TY. In this way, students can make a more informed choice for Leaving Certificate. A double class period is allocated to TY Physics for the entire year and this is good provision.
There is very good provision of science subjects for Leaving Certificate with Physics, Chemistry and Biology offered to students. There is currently one class group in each of Physics and Chemistry and four class groups in Biology. There is currently good uptake of Physics.
Time allocation to Science at junior cycle and Physics at senior cycle is in line with syllabus recommendations with the exception of first-year Science where students are allocated one double and one single class period per week. This time deficit should be addressed. At senior cycle, Physics is allocated one double and three single class periods. There is good access to laboratories for all physics classes.
The college has three science laboratories, two of which are located adjacent to each other. The physics and biology laboratories have adjoining preparation rooms while the chemistry laboratory does not have such a facility. The laboratories are very well stocked and maintained. The college employs the services of a laboratory technician with clearly documented duties. The college has recognised the need for modern science facilities. Therefore, a new science block with five science laboratories is planned.
Each laboratory is equipped with a data-projector, computers and with wireless broadband. In addition, science teachers make use of the college’s general information and communications technology (ICT) facilities including the multimedia room with interactive whiteboard. The library also houses science and physics resources including books and DVDs.
Physics teachers regularly attend available in-service. Continuous professional development (CPD) is well supported by school management and teachers receive support in pursuing further studies and in membership of a professional organisation.
The college’s health and safety statement was reviewed in 2007 and an audit of science facilities was carried out in 2008. It is appropriate that the science teachers were consulted in this process. Very good safety practices were observed in lessons. Laboratory rules were on display and health and safety forms a core component of the physics plan. The chemistry laboratory does not currently have storage facilities for chemicals, and chemicals were stored in locked laboratory presses at the time of the evaluation. The school is encouraged to upgrade chemical storage facilities in line with Department guidelines.
Budgetary provision for the science department meets ongoing needs. Current needs are identified collaboratively by the physics department and submitted to school management.
The college has enjoyed considerable success through its involvement in extra-curricular activities including the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition and SciFest. Students have also participated in the Irish Junior Science Olympiads. These successes are celebrated through the junior science noticeboards. It is recommended that the physics department proceeds with the planned development and promotion of specific physics-related extra-curricular activities.
A very good, well developed and wide-ranging physics plan is in place. Many aspects of subject provision are outlined including time allocation, assessment, evaluation, health and safety, CPD, resources, homework and special needs provision. The plan also includes an analysis of examination results, overall aims and objectives for the subject and plans for the development and promotion of Physics. Science planning also forms part of the school development plan and areas addressed include ICT development, health and safety in Science, and the organisation of the TY curriculum. The quality of planning is excellent.
Collaboration is encouraged and facilitated by senior management. Science teachers have the opportunity to meet on Wednesday afternoons and, on average, meet on six occasions throughout the year. Good minutes of meetings are maintained and these were examined during the evaluation. In light of the increased number of teachers currently in the physics department, opportunities now arise for the development of a collaborative approach to the planning, coordination and teaching of Physics.
The scheme of work for Physics demonstrates how the subject is progressed in fifth and sixth year. However, it should be made textbook independent by linking it to the physics syllabus rather than to chapters of a textbook. The content of the TY plan is innovative in line with Department guidelines and promotes the broad aims of TY science education. However it needs restructuring in line with Department guidelines as outlined in Writing the Transition Year Programme.
Individual planning was very good with teachers very well prepared for the lessons observed with ICT and practical equipment ready and set up in advance. Resources for teaching had been pre-prepared. The content and delivery of lessons were generally very well planned.
The quality of teaching and student learning was very high in all lessons evaluated. Knowledge was relayed to students with clarity and enthusiasm and the effective way in which student learning was progressed was noteworthy. Lessons were conducted in a motivational atmosphere, interest by students in the lesson material was very high and this led to a very positive rapport. Students enjoyed the learning experience and responded positively to the tasks and challenges set out. Student affirmation and positive feedback ensured that participation was maintained at a high level. Lessons were in the main well structured. Where lesson learning objectives were shared with students at the outset of lessons, common short-term goals were set and achieved. It is recommended that this strategy be applied to all lessons.
Teachers varied their methodologies and this played a vital part in maintaining student interest and motivation. Excellent use was made of the board to focus students’ attention on key words and as an aid to summarising key ideas throughout lessons. ICT was used effectively to focus students’ attention on core lesson material and to act a stimulus for probing questions. The use of short video clips and appropriate applets to advance learning was excellent and it is recommended that this practice be developed across all appropriate lessons. It is also recommended that a central bank of ICT resources be developed and maintained on the school’s computer system, so that this material is ready to be used on demand. In addition, the distribution of appropriate customised worksheets is recommended to consolidate lesson material and to focus learning outcomes. Group work would have further promoted the objectives of some lessons and it is recommended that its inclusion be planned as appropriate.
During a further lesson evaluated, students revised electromagnetic induction. Having set out the learning objectives, students learned key concepts through classroom discussion, challenging questions, brief demonstrations and student practical activity. It is praiseworthy that students’ everyday experiences are linked to physics concepts. For example, real-life applications of sound, including musical instruments were discussed during a TY lesson evaluated.
Student participation levels were very high and students were frequently invited to partake in one of the many classroom demonstrations. For example, students used a tuning fork to learn about interference of waves and demonstrated the laws of electromagnetic induction to their peers. This discovery-led learning and activity-based approach is very effective.
Questioning was used expertly as an effective methodology. Questions from students were invited and frequently led to informative discussions. In all lessons evaluated, questions were probing and sufficiently challenging and had the effect of consolidating student learning and building on students’ knowledge and understanding. Students were very confident at answering questions on their work.
A school homework policy is in place and homework was assigned at the conclusion of all lessons evaluated. Formal examinations take place at Christmas and summer with pre-examinations for third and sixth year students in February. In addition, there is ongoing formative assessment of students with end-of-topic and class tests. There is very good ongoing annotation of students’ practical notebooks. Records of practical work were maintained to a good standard. The physics department allocates a percentage of the marks at school examinations to the completion of student practical books. This is very good practice. Further monitoring of student notebooks is necessary to maintain high quality work from all students.
TY students are assigned an essay as part of their Christmas assessment and students complete a formal examination in the summer. Very good TY projects were available in the course of the evaluation and this work also forms part of overall TY assessment.
Parents maintain regular contact with the college through ongoing information meetings and the annual parent-teacher meetings. Formal written reports are sent to parents on three occasions throughout the school year.
Analysis of state examination results and comparisons to national norms forms part of physics department planning. The uptake of higher-level for Physics is very good and has been consistently very good over recent years. Student achievement is also consistently high. It is very praiseworthy that students are sufficiently challenged to reach their potential and achieve highly as a result.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Science is a core subject with Physics, Chemistry and Biology offered in senior cycle.
· A very good, well developed and wide-ranging physics plan is in place.
· The quality of teaching and student learning was very high in all lessons evaluated. Lessons were conducted in a motivational atmosphere, interest by students in the lesson material
was very high and this led to a very positive rapport.
· Methodologies were varied and this played a vital part in maintaining student interest and motivation. Questioning was used expertly as an effective methodology.
· The level of student achievement in Science and Physics is very high.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The school is encouraged to upgrade chemical storage facilities in line with Department guidelines.
· The scheme of work for Physics should be made textbook independent by linking it to the physics syllabus. The TY plan needs restructuring and development in line
with Department guidelines.
· Lesson learning objectives should be shared with students at the outset of lessons.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Physics, together with the principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published February 2010
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The report affirms the high professional standards in the Physics Department
We wish to acknowledge the courteous manner in which the inspection was carried out
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 Chemistry Lab has now been upgraded with chemical storage facilities in line with the Department guidelines.
The Transition Year programme has been restructured in line with the Department guidelines.
The Board of Management will look at 1st Year provisions for science.