An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Biology
Coláiste Cois Siúire
Mooncoin, County Kilkenny
Roll number: 70620C
Date of inspection: 12 February 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Biology
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Cois Siuire, conducted as part of a whole school evaluation. 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 the 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 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.
Provision for the science subjects in Coláiste Cois Siúire is good. Science is a core subject for Junior Certificate, and Biology and Chemistry are available on the senior cycle curriculum. Currently, students are compelled to take one science subject for Leaving Certificate and must choose either Biology or Chemistry. Consequently, the uptake of both subjects is relatively good with higher numbers choosing Biology. While it is commendable that a school of this size can sustain two science subjects on the senior cycle curriculum, it is recommended that in future the school would offer students a free choice of subjects for senior cycle. Furthermore, it is recommended that students would be able to take both subjects for Leaving Certificate as two science subjects are required for entry into some third-level courses. This would mean placing Biology and Chemistry into different option blocks in future years.
There is a maximum of twenty-four students in each class group for laboratory practical work. However, the first-year class group comprises thirty-four students. This group stays together for two single lesson periods per week during which theory is taught, and are split into two groups for one double lesson period per week when practical work is undertaken. There are some inherent logistical problems with this arrangement. Primarily, splitting the class for practical work is problematic as the outcome of practical investigations undertaken by each half group may be different. Secondly, some practical activities, other than the prescribed investigations, are often necessary and indeed appropriate for implementation during single lesson periods. Given the particularly large class size, the teaching of Science in this way is unsafe and is therefore restricting the proper implementation of the revised science syllabus. Classes of this size in the sciences should be avoided in future.
All class groups are arranged on a mixed-ability basis. Class groups retain the same teacher as they progress through senior cycle and this is good practice. However, first, second and third-year groups may change teacher during junior cycle. The revised science syllabus is being implemented with each year group in junior cycle.
The time allocated for the science subjects is very good and meets syllabus requirements. All biology class groups are scheduled to have five class periods per week including one double period. All science class groups are scheduled to have four class periods per week including one double period. All lessons with double periods take place in the school’s laboratory.
There are two science teachers in the school. Teachers have attended inservice training in both the revised science and biology syllabuses. There is one modern laboratory and one demonstration room adjacent to each other in the school. The availability of the demonstration room for lessons in the sciences strongly supports overall provision as each science teacher is based in one or other of the two rooms at all times. Teachers can easily alternate rooms to take lessons in the laboratory when practical work is required or to complete a practical activity on the following day.
The laboratory and demonstration room, together with the preparation area are well-organised and well-stocked with equipment and materials. Numerous scientific charts and models are displayed enhancing each room. A portable television and video are available and a stock of videos has been built up. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) equipment is not currently present in the laboratory or demonstration room. However, management has given a commitment to providing ICT facilities and broadband internet connection is already available in both rooms. It is recommended that this development take place without delay. A range of visual ICT applications that would support learning in the sciences should be sourced and developed over the next few years. The science department should also consider the acquisition of some form of datalogging equipment for use with practical work in the sciences. Furthermore, it is recommended that teachers should consider availing of some computer training or networking with teachers in other schools who have successfully integrated ICT in order to make maximum use of such a facility.
Good attention is paid to matters of health and safety. Proper safety equipment and safety signage are present and there are emergency shut off valves for the gas and electricity systems. However, chemicals should be stored according to the different storage groups and kept in the separate locked chemical store. Information on the storage of chemicals can be obtained on the physical sciences website http://www.psi-net.org/chemistry. The school’s Health and Safety statement is reviewed annually into which the science teachers make an input.
Subject planning has been incorporated into the School Development Planning (SDP) process and formal subject department meetings have begun and are on-going. Formal subject plans have been developed for Science, Biology and Chemistry. These plans include aims and objectives for the subject, schemes of work for each year including lists of the mandatory practical activities and provision for matters of health and safety. These plans could be developed as it emerged that a broader range of teaching methodologies are in use than those listed in the plans. It is recommended, therefore, that a list of available resources, a list of possible teaching and learning methodologies and a list of assessment tools would be integrated with the list of topics in the scheme of work for each year group. In addition, minutes of department meetings should be kept in the planning boxes.
As well as formal meetings there is also much informal consultation on a daily basis among the science teachers in lesson preparation and the sharing of resources. There is an atmosphere of collaboration and collegiality amongst the members of the science department.
Planning for the sourcing, development and management of laboratory equipment is very good and this is co-ordinated by one of the teachers. An order book is in use. Management supplies financial assistance for the re-stocking of necessary materials and these are ordered quarterly. The school received a grant for the purchase of resources for the introduction of the revised junior Science syllabus and this has been fully utilised. There has been on-going development of laboratory facilities and both management and teachers are commended for this work.
There was clear evidence of effective preparation for each lesson. There was thorough prior organisation of resources and sets of materials for student practical work.
A positive and secure working atmosphere was successfully generated. Student-teacher interactions were excellent and embedded in a climate of mutual respect. Care and support for the individual student was evident. There was a particularly good example where strong enthusiasm and a vibrant attitude were conveyed to the subject and towards the student group. This is highly commended. In all cases, students were positively affirmed during their lessons on the basis of their own individual abilities and strengths and this undoubtedly encouraged students to engage with the lesson and to participate.
Lessons were well structured and paced to ensure continuity and progress. Lessons began with a roll call. Most lessons were based on student practical work. The good practice of building upon the students’ existing knowledge of a particular topic and drawing examples from everyday observations was very well applied in some cases, while in other cases it was recommended that the aim of the lesson would be conveyed to the students at the start. In some lessons there was good use of the blackboard to summarise learning. There were good examples where learning was best facilitated when the students were encouraged to make observations of scientific phenomena while specific questions were asked to help develop their understanding of the topic. In this way the investigative approach to learning Science was effectively supported.
Students’ ability to answer questions put to them by the inspector on particular topics that they had studied previously ranged from fairly good to weak. Much prompting was needed with some students. Students however, responded better to questions from their teachers. It is recommended that learning strategies that would encourage the development of student confidence and self-esteem would be implemented with all class groups in future. Such strategies could include: encouraging students to make presentations to their peers on topics researched, conducting debates on contemporary scientific issues and facilitating role play scenarios. While it is acknowledged that some of these strategies have been used on occasion there is much scope for their expansion. Such strategies should be integrated as much as possible into the plans for each group. These strategies will also serve to enhance overall cognitive ability.
The students displayed good laboratory skills. They were familiar with practical work and moved around the laboratory with ease. Students followed instructions accurately and worked well in their groups, collaborating and achieving the tasks set out. In most cases the students write up their laboratory records in their own words based on the method undertaken and this is best practice.
Some opportunities for co-curricular activities in the sciences are provided. Entries to the Young Scientist and Technology exhibition are intermittent but are encouraged and supported with pride by the school. Links have been forged with both local industrial companies and the nearby Waterford Institute of Technology and visits have taken place and these are commended. A whole-school science quiz is undertaken during Science Week.
Student progress is monitored through the use of questioning, the completion of written questions in class, short class tests and formal school examinations. Past examination papers are used during third and sixth year.
The assignment and correction of homework, however, varies. Some classes are allocated written homework while other groups are rarely given homework of this type with more learning homework assigned. The completion of homework by students has proven to be problematic. In an attempt to rectify this, the student’s journal is stamped if homework is not done and subsequently parents must sign the journal. In addition, there was little evidence in students’ copies of any formative feedback on their written work. Therefore, it is recommended that teachers adopt the policy of giving formative assessment when correcting students’ work in line with the homework policy.
There was some variety in the quality of presentation of student laboratory records. In those class groups where marks were allocated for practical work as a component of formal school assessments the practical notebooks were of a good standard. In a small number of cases, however, the laboratory records were incomplete, in that results had not been recorded nor had conclusions been drawn. Overall, student laboratory notebooks would benefit from more frequent monitoring and the addition of written feedback from time to time.
Formal school-based examinations are held for the first, second and fifth-year groups at Christmas and summer. The third and sixth years sit formal examinations at Christmas and during ‘mock’ examinations in the spring. Results from these examinations help to provide a basis for informed comment on student progress to parents, who receive school reports following each examination, in line with standard practice. A parent-teacher meeting is held annually for each year group.
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 Biology and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.