An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Biology
Swords, County Dublin
Roll number: 60810B
Date of inspection: 6 October 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in science and Biology
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto College, Swords. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science and Biology 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 the subject teachers. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
The school has two science laboratories each of which is well maintained. Commendably the laboratories are only used for the science subjects in the school. There is one demonstration room which is timetabled mainly for science. The laboratories and demonstration room are linked by a preparation area which also has a small chemical storeroom. Chemicals are organised according to storage groups and toxics and flammables are appropriately contained. The preparation area is used to store apparatus and equipment and it is well organised. The laboratories also have lockable cupboards for apparatus. Timetabling for the sciences is appropriate.
Management supports the use of information and communication technology (ICT) in teaching and learning. This is evidenced, for example, by the recent provision of two PCs in the laboratories and a further PC and a ceiling-mounted data projector in the demonstration room. Science teachers can also bring students to the computer room which must be pre-booked.
Science is an optional subject in first year. Management expressed regret that Science cannot be offered as a core subject to all incoming first-year students because of the demands on the two laboratories in the school. The school offers an optional Transition Year in senior cycle and Science is included on the programme. Biology, Chemistry and Physics are offered to Leaving Certificate level. Unfortunately, due to low uptake, Physics is not on the timetable this year. Students who have not studied science at Junior Cycle are admitted to Leaving Certificate Biology and a number of students have availed of this opportunity. This is commendable and a considerable task given the breadth of the Junior Certificate science syllabus. Subject option bands are generated around students’ choices in junior and senior cycle. Students have open access to levels and change of levels is accommodated.
The science team has developed a health and safety statement based on the school’s health and safety statement, which was reviewed at the start of 2009. Appropriate health and safety equipment was found in both laboratories as well as report books for accidents and breakages. Phone numbers of the emergency services are also prominently displayed. Recently the science teachers participated in continuing professional development (CPD) on themes such as “science differentiation in action, assessment for learning and classroom management and behaviour”.
A range of co-curricular and extracurricular activities are employed to support teaching and learning in the sciences. These include visits to the Botanic Gardens, the Conway Institute, University College Dublin, Dublin Institute of Technology and Dublin City University. Teachers have also organised input from a number of visiting speakers. Commendably, the ecology fieldwork for Leaving Certificate Biology is carried out in the locality. The science teachers are commended for their commitment to these activities.
Subject department planning is facilitated by the provision of time for formal meetings and the outcomes of these meetings are recorded. In addition, there is ongoing liaison among the science team on a daily basis. The subject department is co-ordinated effectively by two members of the team. The duties form part of their posts of responsibility.
Common long-term plans have been developed both for Junior Certificate Science and for Leaving Certificate Biology. These are based on the template of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). The plans contain reference to the school’s mission statement as well as information on science provision in the school, links with the learning-support department, subject choice and timetabling of the sciences. A homework policy and internet acceptable use policy are also included. Curriculum planning for both Science and Biology consists of a course overview outlining the sequence of topics to be taught in each year. It is recommended that these plans be expanded to form programmes of work in appropriate time frames which should include learning objectives linked to appropriate methodologies and methods of assessment. There is also scope to include safety guidelines at the start of the programmes.
The school has good ICT facilities. In addition to the computer room and the PC in each laboratory, both laboratories are internet enabled. Regarding the planning for the use of ICT in the teaching and learning of Science and Biology, a list of science websites was provided in the planning documentation and is displayed in the laboratories. Further planning is recommended for the use of the ICT facilities available in the school by the science team for course delivery, student research and independent learning. The strategies devised for the use of ICT in teaching and learning should be documented in the department planning folder.
A code of conduct for the use of laboratories is displayed in the laboratories and it was also included in a number of mandatory practical notebooks observed. Students sign their own contract and retain it in the practical notebook. This good practice should be extended across the science department. There is scope to include plans for a regular review of this documentation and these should include reflection and self-evaluation. Lists of websites appropriate to the sciences were provided in the planning documentation. These should be incorporated into the programmes of work.
Teachers reported that the learning-support department regularly seek lists of key words and subject-specific terminology in order to appropriately support students who need help in the sciences. This good liaison with the learning-support department should be documented in the subject department plans.
In the classes observed there was evidence of good short-term planning. Appropriate materials and resources necessary for each lesson had been prepared in advance. This level of preparation contributed to the good quality of teaching and learning and this is to be commended.
The lessons observed had clear aims and these were communicated to students at the outset. Instruction in all lessons was clear and particular attention was paid to encouraging the use of subject-specific language. A number of resources were used to enhance teaching and learning. These included worksheets, overhead projector (OHP) transparencies, laboratory apparatus, textbooks and a model of the skeleton. Generally a number of methodologies were incorporated into the lessons and teachers should avoid over reliance on any one methodology.
Classroom management was effective and students responded positively to clear class rules and teacher instructions. Teachers regularly checked that learning was taking place. Students displayed a mature attitude to their learning and showed good understanding of the concepts and facts taught. The atmosphere in all classrooms was positive and conducive to work. The lessons were purposeful and good progress was made in all classes visited.
Appropriate use of questioning was observed to check students’ understanding and to encourage discussions. Students were regularly asked to check their own answers as the teacher carried out the calculations on the whiteboard. A secure and supportive learning environment was in evidence as students openly queried any explanations of which they were unsure.
Students’ participation in classroom activities was closely monitored by the teacher. Attention was given to the learning needs of individual students as well as to communication with the whole class as a group. Some differentiated methodologies were evident. For example, more teacher attention was provided for students experiencing difficulties. In one lesson, a differentiated worksheet had been prepared and this is commendable. It is recommended that this aspect of course delivery be further developed.
In the practical lessons observed, students were competent in the handling of equipment and materials. Appropriate health and safety regulations were adhered to during the course of practical work observed and students displayed good routines in setting up and clearing away the apparatus. The development of such routines is good preparation for practical activities and can aid in the time management of a lesson. It is commendable that students were encouraged to write up their procedure in their own words at the end of each practical activity. Good practice was observed where the teacher encouraged discussion of results, the suitability of the methodology and the process of using a control to compare results.
A range of formative and summative assessment modes was in evidence. Common tests are administered at the end of the year in junior cycle science and a percentage of the marks is awarded for practical work. This is good practice as it mirrors the coursework element of the revised Junior Certificate science examination. Common tests are administered in Leaving Certificate Biology at the end of fifth year. End-of-topic tests are held regularly in all year groups and results are recorded in teachers’ diaries.
An agreed subject department homework policy has been developed. Homework is assigned appropriately and is regularly monitored. Assessment was observed as an integral part of teaching and learning in the lessons visited. This included the use of questioning, observation and completion of written assignments. Students were regularly involved in self-assessment. Formative assessment was seen to be used effectively to encourage students to evaluate and improve on their work. There is also scope to explore the potential of peer assessment in lessons.
Assessment for learning practices were observed in some classes visited. Best practice was observed where student tests were returned to the students and the teacher spent some time affirming students individually and providing them with information about how their performance could be improved upon. Teachers noted the most common mistakes in a given exercise and clarified them as a whole-class exercise.
An appropriate system for the collation and storage of students’ work is in place. In the teachers’ diaries observed, there were good records of student attendance and performance.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Appropriate health and safety equipment was found in both laboratories as well as report books for accidents and breakages.
· A range of co-curricular and extracurricular activities supports teaching and learning in the sciences.
· Students displayed a mature attitude to their learning and showed good understanding of the concepts and facts taught.
· The atmosphere in all lessons visited was positive and conducive to work.
· The school has good ICT facilities.
· The lessons were purposeful and good progress was made in all classes visited.
· Formative assessment was seen to be used effectively to encourage students to evaluate and improve on their work.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that plan for Science and Biology be expanded to form programmes of work in appropriate time frames which should include learning objectives linked
to appropriate methodologies and methods of assessment.
· The good liaison with the learning support department should be documented in the subject department plans.
· It is recommended that the ICT facilities available in the school be further developed by the science team for course delivery, student research and independent learning.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Science and Biology and with the principal and the science team at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings
and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published February 2010