An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physics and Science
CBS Secondary School
James Street, Kilkenny
Roll number: 61550G
Date of inspection: 2 and 3 October 2008
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN PHYSICS AND SCIENCE
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Christian Brothers Secondary School (CBS), Kilkenny. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Physics and Science and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of these subjects 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 of Physics and Science. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Science is a core subject at CBS Kilkenny. First and second year classes are mixed ability with banding currently in third year. In the interests of best practice, all junior cycle science class groups will be mixed ability from the next academic year. This is a welcome development. Numbers in some class groups are quite large with up to thirty students in first year and second year Science. In light of the practical nature of the science curriculum and with an increased emphasis on ‘hands-on’ practical investigation, it is recommended that the school, within its resources, gives consideration to reducing the number of students in practical class groups. Students generally retain the same teacher for Science throughout junior cycle and for Physics at senior cycle.
Modules in Physics, Chemistry and Biology are offered as part of the Transition Year (TY) programme in the school. Each module lasts eight weeks and offers students a taster of each subject while encouraging applied aspects of each subject through activity based learning. This is commended.
There is very good provision of science subjects for Leaving Certificate with Physics, Chemistry and Biology offered to students. Subject choice is well supported with students strongly encouraged to study at least one science subject for Leaving Certificate. Expert advice from subject teachers and the guidance department, a guidance module in TY and parents’ information evenings all play an important part in ensuring students make an informed choice. There is currently one class group in Physics, two in Chemistry and up to three class groups in Biology. Uptake of Physics has been traditionally high with two class groups in fifth year and sixth year. Numbers choosing the subject have increased further in the current year with twenty three students in the fifth year class group.
Time allocation to Science at junior cycle is in line with syllabus requirements with students receiving one double and two single class periods. Physics is allocated one double and two single class periods in fifth and sixth year. Some class periods are of forty-five minutes duration, nevertheless, time allocation to the teaching of Physics at senior cycle falls short of syllabus recommendations by approximately twenty minutes per week in both fifth year and sixth year. Therefore, it is recommended that sixth-year physics classes be allocated an additional class period each week.
The school has four well maintained science laboratories. Priority access to laboratories for all double periods is ensured by good timetabling. Each laboratory has access to a preparation and storage facility adjacent to the laboratory. Equipment and materials were stored in an orderly fashion. The work of science teachers in this regard is highly commended. The school provides an adequate budget for laboratory equipment and supplies. Information and communication technology (ICT) has been provided in each laboratory in the form of ceiling-mounted data-projectors, computers, broadband access and data logging equipment. This is commended.
The school’s health and safety statement is reviewed annually and was most recently reviewed n the current year. This is commended. Very good health and safety practice was observed within the classroom and in the organisation of the laboratories on the part of the science teachers. For example, safety glasses were worn by students as appropriate, good school bag management practices were in place and laboratory rules were on clear display in all laboratories. However, chemical storage requires further attention. It is therefore recommended that chemicals be stored in line with best health and safety practice and Department guidelines. Flame proof cabinets should be provided for all flammable materials.
Student participation in extra-curricular and out-of-school activities includes participation in the BT Young Scientists Competition, the Carlow Institute of Technology quiz and Science Week activities. Many students have achieved considerable success in these activities and for this the science department, students and teachers, is commended.
Continuous professional development (CPD) is well supported by school management with teachers being facilitated in attending in-service courses and supported in membership of a professional association. The school is an affiliated member of the Institute of Physics. The school has recently joined the Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century (TL21) project lead by NUI Maynooth, which supports ongoing teacher professional development.
A voluntary science co-ordinator is in place and this position rotates annually. Formal meetings take place once per term and informal meetings of science teachers take place on an ongoing basis which has developed collaborative practice in the department. There is very good delegation of duties, for example, teachers take responsibility for stocking of laboratories and ordering materials. This is commended.
A good plan is in place for junior Science and Physics at senior cycle. Both plans incorporate a common scheme of work for the current year for each year group and address many aspects of science provision in the school, such as time allocation, resources and ICT. However, the plan did not address broader issues such as future action planning for Science, monitoring of uptake at senior cycle, results analysis and sharing of best practice. It is recommended that these plans be developed into an overarching science plan to include these broader issues. In addition, it is recommended that the schemes of work be referenced directly to the syllabus and that these schemes outline methodologies and resources for each section of the course.
The content of the TY plan for Physics is very good with a good balance between subject sampling material and applied aspects of the subject. This is commended. It is recommended that this plan be modified and redrafted in line with Department guidelines on writing the TY programme. It is particularly important that the TY plan incorporates built-in evaluative procedures to reflect current practice, so that it can be updated with feedback from students and teachers.
Teachers were very well prepared for the lessons observed. ICT and practical equipment were ready and set up in advance and resources including handouts had been pre-prepared. The content and delivery of lessons were very well planned. This is highly commended.
The quality of teaching and student learning was high in all lessons visited. The good rapport built up in lessons resulted from motivated students who were supported and affirmed in a caring and structured classroom environment. Students were challenged to reach their potential and responded with enthusiasm. Lesson material was delivered with clarity. Differentiated practices were effective in that there was a good balance between class, small group and individual support. This is highly commended. Lessons were in the main well structured. Some lessons would have been further enhanced by sharing learning objectives with students at the outset and by summing up lesson material in a plenary session.
Methodologies were varied in all lessons and enhanced the student learning experience. During one lesson observed, students were learning about the structure of the eye and the functions of its parts. ICT was used expertly with short clear inputs followed by whole class discussion. The bending of light as it enters the eye was portrayed using computer animation. Students carried out short exercises to find their blind spot. A blank diagram of the eye on the board reinforced learning and aided recall. A well designed worksheet consolidated lesson material and enhanced learning. Challenging questions probed students’ understanding. The board was used to focus on key words and concepts during lessons. Handouts were used to consolidate classroom material. It is recommended that further use of worksheets as a consolidation tool for learning is explored.
Investigative practical work was used effectively. There was an example where students were set the task of separating sand and water using filtration. Students enjoyed the learning experience which was carried out in a safe environment. Individual help and support ensured that all students benefited from this task. In another example, students were assigned the task of investigating mixtures and compounds. All students successfully separated the mixture while working in small groups.
Practical demonstrations were used to good effect in many lessons observed. During a lesson on the theme of optics, following a very useful animated sequence on critical angle and total internal reflection, a fibre optic lamp was demonstrated as an example of this phenomenon. A short video on the same theme reinforced learning and students were asked to predict the outcomes at intervals by pausing the video. This is very good practice and promotes discovery-led learning. It is recommended this discovery-led approach be extended across all lessons. Students measured the critical angle and calculated the refractive index of glass successfully while working in small groups. The progressive build up of knowledge in this way is highly commended.
Mathematical concepts were taught with clarity and appropriate problems were explained and set as a challenge for students. There was good emphasis on units of measurement. Possible errors that may arise during practical investigations were set as challenging questions to students. This is commended.
Team teaching formed part of students’ experiences at junior cycle in that students were afforded the opportunity of receiving additional learning support in the course of a lesson evaluated. There was clear delegation of duties and very commendable pre-planning had taken place. Students received individual support in spelling, explanation of concepts and implementation of tasks assigned. It is suggested that further class discussion and the completion of appropriate worksheets would have further enhanced the support provided.
Questioning was used very effectively. Questions were probing and sufficiently challenging and had the effect of consolidating student learning and building on students’ knowledge and understanding. Students were generally very confident at answering questions on their work.
The uptake of higher-level for Physics and Science has increased steadily in recent years. In addition, the number of students achieving higher level grades in Physics and Science is currently very good.
There is a collaborative approach to assessment in Science with common examinations at Christmas and summer for first and second year students. This approach will progress to third years in the next academic year. The mandatory record of practical work for Science at junior cycle and Physics at senior cycle is allocated ten percent of marks in these examinations. This is commended. In addition there are class tests after each unit of course material completed in Science and Physics.
Homework was corrected and discussed at the outset of many lessons visited and was assigned at the conclusion of all lessons. Practices observed were in line with the school’s homework policy.
Formal examinations take place at Christmas and summer. Junior and Leaving Certificate classes sit pre-examinations in March. TY students are allocated their yearly grade for project work and on a continuous assessment basis. Reports are sent to parents at Christmas and Easter. Contact with parents is ongoing with parent-teacher meetings and parent information evenings.
There was good monitoring and ongoing annotation of students’ practical notebooks by teachers. Records of practical work were generally maintained to a good standard, however, in some individual cases the quality could improve. Therefore, it is recommended that teachers follow up on corrections in student notebooks ensuring that students are given the responsibility of maintaining a high quality record of their work.
Good support procedures are in place for students with additional needs. Links with the resource and learning support departments are very good. A science teacher is allocated to appropriate junior science classes for additional learning support. In third year, this support mainly takes place in the classroom setting as evidenced in the course of the evaluation. In first year and second year, students may be withdrawn for additional support. School management is commended in providing this good level of learning support to science students.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Science is a core subject with Physics, Chemistry and Biology offered as modules in TY and as senior cycle subjects.
· Subject choice is well supported with students strongly encouraged to study at least one science subject at senior cycle.
· CPD is well supported by school management and availed of by teachers.
· Teachers were very well prepared for the lessons observed. ICT and practical equipment were ready and set up in advance.
· The quality of teaching and student learning was high in all lessons visited.
· The good rapport built up in lessons resulted from motivated students who were supported and affirmed in a caring and structured classroom environment.
· Methodologies were varied and enhanced the student learning experience. Investigative practical work was used effectively.
· Student achievement and the uptake of higher-level for Physics and junior Science are very good.
· There is a collaborative approach to assessment in Science with common examinations at Christmas and summer for first and second year students.
· Good support procedures were in place for students with additional needs in Science.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The school should, within its resources, give consideration to reducing the numbers of students in practical science class groups.
· Sixth-year physics classes should be allocated an additional class period per week.
· Chemicals should be stored in line with best health and safety practice and Department guidelines. Flame proof cabinets should be provided for all flammable materials.
· An overarching science plan should be developed. Schemes of work should be referenced directly to the syllabus and should outline methodologies and resources for each section of the course.
· The TY plan should be modified and redrafted in line with Department guidelines.
· Some lessons would have been further enhanced by sharing learning objectives with students at the outset and by summing up lesson material in a plenary session.
· It is recommended that corrections in student notebooks be carefully monitored. Students should be given the responsibility of maintaining a high quality record of their work.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Physics and Science, together with the principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published May 2009