An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood)
Coláiste Dún Iascaigh,
Cahir, County Tipperary
Roll number: 76063D
Date of inspection: 12 February 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood)
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Dún Iascaigh. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Construction Studies (CS) and Materials Technology (Wood) (MTW) 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 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.
A wide range of technology subjects is provided in Coláiste Dún Iascaigh. In junior cycle, in addition to MTW and CS, the focus subjects of this inspection, the school also offers Technical Graphics, Metalwork and Technology. In senior cycle Technical Drawing, Engineering and Technology are also offered together with the Graphics and Construction and Technology modules in Leaving Certificate Applied. The management of the school is commended for providing students with this breadth of choice in the technologies.
There is a teacher identified as co-ordinator of each of the subjects, MTW and CS. Formal subject-department planning meetings are held at staff days, at about monthly intervals. Management is commended for providing regular opportunities for formal subject co-ordination to take place and the subject teaching team is commended for its collaborative approach. Given the common concerns of teachers of all the technology subjects, it is fitting that the subject-department planning meetings include all of the technologies. It is suggested that the subject co-ordinators should identify a convenor, perhaps on an annual rotating basis, to chair subject-department planning meetings and record the outcomes in bullet-point format. This would do much to ensure continuity in the subject-development process and aid self-review and evaluation.
In both MTW and CS concise documentation clearly states subject-department aims and objectives and lays out the programme of study being followed in each year of the respective programme. This documentation deals comprehensively with many aspects of the teaching of the subjects in the school and provides a frame of reference for their development.
The introduction of new syllabuses for the technology subjects in senior cycle is being supported by enhanced provision of continuous professional development (CPD) for teachers of these subjects under the auspices of t4, the technology subjects support service, www.t4.ie. The teachers of MTW and CS are being encouraged and supported, with their fellow teachers of the other technology subjects, in pursuing this valuable opportunity to develop their professional skills. This encouragement and support are commended.
MTW is allocated four class periods per week, configured as one double-period and two single-period lessons, in each year of the junior cycle. CS is normally allocated five periods per week with one of the sixth-year groups benefiting by being allocated six periods in the current year. The time allocated to each CS group includes two double-period lessons. In all cases the time allocation, its configuration and distribution across the week, are appropriate for the effective delivery of the respective syllabus.
At both junior and senior cycle, students are offered an open, unrestricted choice of optional subjects. The choice includes, as appropriate, MTW and CS. The students’ choice in junior cycle is supported by attendance at an information night at which the nature of the various subjects being offered is explained. A range of work completed by students is displayed at the information night and older students may demonstrate the types of work they undertake. Incoming students and their parents meet the principal individually and select the subjects they wish to study in each of the four subject-option bands. While the school is commended for the openness of this process and the quality of the support provided for students and parents in making choices, there is merit in considering the possibility of providing experience of each subject prior to choices being made. In the context of a ‘taster’ system being introduced, one possibility to be considered, in the technologies in particular, might be to devise agreed programmes for each of the technology subjects, for part or all of first year. Careful design of the programme followed in each subject, taking full advantage of shared areas and emphasising common curricular support, might be used to minimise the effect of the reduced time allocated to individual subjects.
Commendably, in senior cycle, subject choice is again based on students’ preferences. Students are supported in making the choices most suitable for them. Support includes an open night at which work done by previous CS students is displayed. Students are given an unrestricted choice from the full range of optional subjects offered by the school and the subject-option groups are devised to meet the preferences of the individual students to the greatest extent possible. It is usual for each student’s preferences to be fully satisfied. The school is commended for the quality both of its support for students’ choice and its response to students’ preferences.
There are two wood workshops in Coláiste Dún Iascaigh, designated as MTW room and CS room. When visited, both rooms and their associated storage spaces were admirably neat, tidy and well maintained and the attention to detail of the subject-teaching team in providing for the neat and well-designed storage of tools and equipment is commended. Both workshops are fitted with very effective dust extraction. While ingenuity in the modification of work benches, allowing them to be placed side by side creating four person work stations, has maximised the space available in the MTW room, this is not without its drawbacks, principal among which is the proximity of the vices at the same side of the bench. The working space for students in the room is reduced by the inclusion of a saw bench and a planer-thicknesser. The storage adjacent to this room is cramped. The board of management is encouraged to continue to explore the possibility of increasing the teaching space in the MTW workshop by the addition of a wood-machining room and materials store. This would have the combined advantages of removing the saw bench and planer-thicknesser from the teaching environment and increasing the working space in the room.
The board and senior in-school management are commended for the quality of the support provided for the teaching of CS and MTW in terms of equipment, materials and consumable items. In the context of developing the subject-department structure, it is desirable that both the CS and MTW subject-teaching team are encouraged to play an increasing part in the planning of their subject department. As part of this encouragement, it is urged that the possibility of providing annual budgets be considered. These budgets should be matched to the recurring costs of materials and consumables in the subject department. Care in the spending of such an annual budget may lead to extra savings which, if available to the department, will provide further incentive for careful planning.
The proper emphasis placed on the importance of health and safety awareness by management and the MTW and CS subject-teaching team is commended. The health and safety statement, facilitated by outside expertise in 2002, is due to be reviewed shortly. In 2006, health and safety in the workshops was reviewed by the teachers of CS and MTW in line with the document issued by the State Claims Agency and the Department of Education and Science, Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post-primary Schools. At the time of the inspection, appropriate personal protection equipment was available in the workshops and was used by the students as required.
There is good provision for the use of ICT in the teaching of MTW and CS. A personal computer is available in each workshop with broadband access to the internet. There is access to data projectors and to a suite of sixteen laptops on a mobile trolley which each have wireless access to the internet. In addition access is available to the computer room.
The subject teaching team of MTW and CS plan their work carefully. In the lessons visited, teaching materials, class materials and equipment were prepared and ready for use and this preparation was evident in the smoothness and order with which the lessons progressed.
The subject-teaching team is commended for its collaborative engagement with subject-department planning at regular meetings. This engagement has resulted in clear, agreed programmes of study. These programmes are in line with the requirements of the respective syllabuses. In addition the CS and MTW subject-teaching team meet informally very regularly to plan for suitable design projects, class materials and equipment, and to deal with issues of common concern.
To further improve the impact of subject-department planning on the quality of the students’ experience of learning it is recommended that consideration be given to teaching approaches and methodologies at subject-department planning meetings. The inclusion of details of teaching methodologies and approaches found to be particularly effective in the delivery of specific elements of MTW and CS, particularly in theory lessons, would greatly enhance the programme planning already completed.
It is commended that the MTW and CS subject-teaching team has considered how best to meet the needs of students with special educational needs and students for whom English is not their first language. The continuation of this process to more detailed planning within subject-department planning is encouraged.
Internet research is used in MTW and CS for project design work and to investigate aspects of theory. ICT is also used for word processing of design project books. The recent deployment of mobile laptop computer facilities in the school is an exciting development and will make ICT-based learning more accessible. The subject-teaching team is urged to plan carefully for the deployment of the hardware and computer aided design (CAD) software which is being supplied by the Department of Education and Science for the teaching of the new syllabuses in Design and Communication Graphics (DCG) and Technology. The teaching team is encouraged to prepare also for the use of these new facilities in the teaching of the other technology subjects in both junior and senior cycles. It will be to the advantage of all students to be introduced to the use of parametric modelling CAD as soon as they start to design, as early as first year.
Planning for health and safety in the workshops has led to best practice in many regards. The general safety rules for the workshops were prominently displayed and it is highly commended that this was done not just in English but also in Polish and Lithuanian, both languages spoken by some students, to ensure that all have equal access. It is the intention of the subject-teaching team to display the rules in Irish also and this is applauded. Appropriate standard safety notices were in evidence at each machine and, in the case of pedestal drills, notices listing the procedures for their safe use were in place adjacent to each. It is recommended that similar practice be adopted with regard to each of the other machines. The main safe operating procedures of a particular machine, brought to the students’ attention in the course of a lesson when they receive training in its use, should be listed concisely on the safety notices to act as a constant reminder.
It is recommended that safe operational areas be identified around machines in both workshops and that lines be set down on the floor demarcating them. In the context of school workshops, safety signage and notices serve an educational function in addition to the communication of safety information. In light of this, it is desirable that every opportunity be taken to draw students’ attention to best practice in this regard. The display of notices to draw the students’ attention to the safe operational areas, and to the consequent implications for students’ working habits, is also encouraged.
The teaching methodologies used in the lessons visited in the course of the inspection were appropriate to the abilities, needs and interests of the students. The quality of teacher demonstration of traditional woodwork skills is commended. The pacing, clarity and effectiveness of the demonstrations ensured that the students used the time efficiently and this resulted in excellent work being done in some cases, while the work was of a very high standard throughout.
The purpose of each of the lessons visited was made clear at the outset. Lessons were well structured and paced and the work undertaken was varied and made interesting for the students. In the case of a practical lesson in CS, students had previously completed part of the marking out of one end of a small rack suitable for CDs. This exercise provided a commendable opportunity for them to develop their practical woodworking skills. While the students were fully involved in the lesson, it is suggested that their experiences would be further enriched if they were to produce a complete artefact which would serve a purpose on completion. It is the practice in the Leaving Certificate CS skills test to present students with the marking out and making of a complete artefact. The lesson began quickly and efficiently with the distribution of the students’ work pieces. The initial teacher demonstration included quick recapitulation of the work done and setting of the objectives of the lesson. Very effective use was made of the overhead projector. The teacher’s input was focussed and clear. Careful questioning was used to good effect. Continuity was maintained with the previous lesson. Between demonstrations the teacher moved among the students, affirming success and providing help where required. In each of the lessons visited students’ success was recognised, affirmed and celebrated.
In a theory lesson in MTW dealing with metals, a range of strategies was adopted including the investigation of a sample of different metals which had been placed separately in water. As the effect of the water on the various metals was investigated, the students were encouraged to contribute, guided by carefully framed and placed questions. Through questioning, the metals were identified, their characteristics were determined and they were categorised. The use of such discovery-based approaches, to the teaching of theory in particular, is commended. The subject-teaching team is encouraged to continue to develop a full range of suitable and effective teaching strategies. Where appropriate, group and pair work can be an effective way to involve students actively in learning, particularly when each group records its outcomes and reports back to the whole class. In the lesson visited, the students recorded the results of their investigation immediately by writing short, dictated notes in their copybooks. It is recommended that the subject-teaching team of MTW and CS continue to explore and develop a greater variety of active-learning approaches, including group work, discovery-based learning and differentiated learning as appropriate, to be deployed specifically in theory lessons.
While published text books are effectively used in the teaching of MTW and CS, the subject-teaching team is particularly commended for its compilation of a suitable book for students of CS whose needs were not being met by the available texts. It is of huge benefit to these students that they are now presented with the course material in a suitably accessible form. The subject-teaching team is encouraged to continue with this very valuable work on behalf of their students, perhaps adding suitable material as may be needed with the introduction of the Architectural Technology syllabus.
The workshops were very effectively managed. Tools and equipment were provided with safe and secure racks and cupboards for their storage. Benches were placed in an orderly, safe and effective way to provide students with suitable and convenient work places. Students worked in their assigned places and when they had need of special tools their distribution was organized in a very efficient manner by the teacher. The distribution and collection of students’ work pieces were organized safely and efficiently. The quality of workshop management is commended.
A pleasant, well-ordered, supportive atmosphere prevailed in each of the lessons visited. Discipline was present but was never forced or unwilling. All interaction between teacher and students and among students themselves was respectful and indicated excellent rapport. Students remained focussed on the work of the lessons in all cases and were secure and relaxed.
Both workshops visited in the course of the inspection were bright and welcoming and displays of subject-related materials and students’ project work provided a stimulating learning environment. Among the students’ work displayed were health and safety posters notable for their diversity, including diversity of language, and this is commended.
The responses of the students to questions put by the inspector confirmed their knowledge and understanding of the work being done and their ability to communicate effectively in the subject. In each case the students were fully engaged with the activities of the lesson and their responses showed that learning was taking place.
Students’ class work and homework assignments in MTW and CS are assessed throughout the year and these assessments are carefully recorded by the teacher concerned. At Christmas and in summer students sit formal examinations. The average of the continuous assessments are aggregated with the examination marks to arrive at the Christmas and summer results. The use of continuous assessment of students’ progress is commended and, to further enhance this mode of assessment in MTW and CS, it is urged that the subject-teaching team look at developing common practice regarding the weighting of the assessment average when aggregating marks. With regular feedback continuing to be given to indicate to students how their assessments can be expected to influence their results, this slightly more formal practice has the potential to encourage greater effort where necessary.
In addition to the more formal assessment of students’ progress, teachers of MTW and CS provide constant ongoing assessment of project work in the course of practical lessons in the workshops. This informal assessment also provides opportunities for affirmation, helping to ensure that students reach their potential, and maintaining the high standard of woodworking skills developed by them.
The subject-teaching team of MTW and CS is commended for fostering enthusiasm and curiosity for the subjects among their students. This is indicated, not alone by the high regard in which current students hold the subjects, but by continued popularity when they indicate their choice of optional subjects in both junior and senior cycle.
The in-school assessment modes in use in MTW and CS are in line with the modes indicated in the respective syllabuses. It is urged that care continues to be placed on the importance of student project design books in the assessment of MTW in all three years of the junior cycle. The commendable practice of ensuring that student design project work is differentiated and within the ability range of the individual student provides the opportunity to use the assessment of this work to address the individual needs of each student.
The regularity of communication with parents in Coláiste Dún Iascaigh provides a valuable channel for information on students’ progress. In addition to parent-teacher meetings and Christmas and summer examination reports, monthly reports are provided on the progress of students in sixth year. The student journal is used as needed, as a commendable two-way channel of communication between the teacher and the student’s home.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The management of the school is commended for the appropriate provision of materials and equipment for the teaching of MTW and CS.
· The allocation of sufficient time for the teaching of both subjects suitably configured as single-period and double-period lessons is applauded.
· The provision of an unrestricted choice of optional subjects at junior and senior cycle is affirmed.
· The teaching team of MTW and CS is commended for the quality of its long-term and short-term planning.
· The quality of teacher demonstration of traditional practical skills, often leading to excellence in the work done by the students, is commended.
· The subject-teaching team is particularly commended for its compilation of a suitable book for students of CS whose needs were not being met effectively by the available texts.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the possibility of allocating an annual subject department budget for materials and consumables be examined as a way to provide a further incentive for detailed subject-department planning.
· The board of management is encouraged to continue to explore the possibility of increasing the teaching space in the MTW workshop by the addition of a combined wood machining room and materials store.
· It is recommended that the subject-teaching team of MTW and CS continue to explore and develop a greater variety of active-learning approaches, including group work, discovery-based learning and differentiated learning as appropriate, to be deployed specifically in theory lessons.
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the teachers of Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood) and the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.