An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science
Indreabhán, Co na Gaillimhe
Roll number: 71250A
Date of inspection: 25 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Cholmcille, Indreabhán, 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 makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject 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, deputy principal, and subject teachers.
Three science subjects are provided in the school: Science, Agricultural Science, and Biology. All junior cycle students take Science and of the two senior science subjects, Agricultural Science is by far the more popular. Each senior cycle student takes either Biology or Agricultural Science. All science classes at junior and senior levels are of mixed ability. Science is included as a subject in the school’s Transition Year (TY).
While students going into senior cycle are also given the option of choosing Physics and Chemistry (combined course) demand for this subject has not been sufficient to merit its inclusion in the curriculum. Notwithstanding the merits of the two senior science subjects that are currently on the school’s curriculum, the school should ensure that when students are being advised on the subjects that they may take at senior cycle due regard is taken of the career and third-level implications of taking Physics and Chemistry (combined course).
The school’s TY includes a module in Science of two class periods per week. The objective of this module is that through sampling the science subjects from the school’s senior cycle curriculum students would make more informed choices of senior-cycle subjects. The module, which is practically based, is provided over three terms and Physics and Chemistry are allocated one term between them. At the time of the evaluation the Physics component of the module had not yet been selected. It is recommended that a greater emphasis be placed on Physics and on Chemistry within the TY science module. If necessary the time allocation for this module should be increased.
All science classes in senior and junior cycles are allocated the appropriate instructional time and each class has a double class period for student practical work. The school has one laboratory which is in good condition and which is used principally by two of the school’s science teachers. The other main teaching area for science subjects is a large classroom which has been fitted with two large benches. It is capable of being used for limited student practical work with smaller classes. The laboratory has a small preparation room that is of limited use. Most equipment storage is in the laboratory under the benches which gives rise to some difficulties. It is suggested that in any planning for development in the school attention be given to storage needs in the science area. No clear solution presents itself. However, as overall the accommodation in the school for Science is adequate, perhaps some re-arrangement involving the science classroom might be a solution. Both the classroom and the laboratory are well presented with appropriate material, including students’ work, displayed on walls. Both science rooms are equipped for broadband and each science teacher has the use of a laptop computer. Each room has a data projector.
As part of the drafting of the school’s health and safety statement a risk assessment was carried out in the science teaching areas and health and safety issues are included in the science subject plan. The school is about to revise its chemical storage to use a colour coding system. The science department has a co-ordinator and all members have taken part in appropriate continuing professional development. The school has adequate resources for the purchase of equipment and other supplies for the teaching of Science.
As with any school where teaching and learning take place through the medium of Irish the teachers of Science must address challenges related to the provision of Irish-language student resource material. In doing this they are making use of material supplied by An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta & Gaelscolaíochta (COGG). A further difficulty is that not all students have the required standard in Irish to follow instruction given entirely through the medium of Irish. The teachers of Science are conscious of these issues and their commitment to addressing them is commendable.
The school’s involvement in school development planning has produced subject plans for Science, Biology and Agricultural Science which are the product of a combined effort of the science teachers. The subject plan for Science includes information on the role of information and communication technology (ICT) in Science classes in the school, aims for Science, teaching and learning objectives, and assessment of Science. As well as procedures in relation to record keeping the plan also includes outline schedules of material to be covered each term. The science subject plan also refers to the provision made for students with special educational needs. As part of this teachers provide support and adapt their teaching methodologies to the needs of these students. The science staff is commended on the co-operation and effort which have been put into bringing subject planning in Science to this stage.
The science department has a meeting about twice each term and these meetings cover general subject planning including the order in which topics are taught, adapting practical work to the requirements of the new syllabus in Science, and planning for the incorporation of ICT in teaching Science in the school. It is evident that the planning process at a subject department level has taken root in the science department. The planning which has taken place will form a solid basis for the future work of the department. The teachers concerned are complimented on their work in this area.
It is recommended that the planning process in the Science area should be further developed to incorporate more detailed statements of the science programme for each class each term, together with common assessment strategies for Science. This should include the approach to be taken to each part of the syllabus and the equipment and other teaching resources required. As well as this, departmental planning should take account of the need to incorporate revision of material previously covered into the teaching, learning, and assessment process. The science department should compile a list of the equipment and other resources, including ICT available to it and use this in the planning suggested above. This planning will facilitate continuity in the science education of students when changes in teaching staff occur.
Practical work in science will benefit from the current work which is taking place in regard to the reorganisation of laboratory equipment to make it more accessible for student practical work. This has already been completed for Biology, where the equipment for student practical work has been collected together in individual kits for each experiment. Work has commenced also on the preparation of similar kits for the student investigations in the Science syllabus. The teachers concerned are highly commended on this work.
Methodologies used in the classes observed included classroom demonstration, student practical work and teacher presentation using overhead projector and whiteboard. There was evidence of thorough preparation of each class observed, including planning for resource and equipment requirements in the case of the practical classes. The topics of the classes were inheritance of traits, acids, bases, and pH, and digestion. All topics were appropriate to the syllabus, although in the case of one class the material was at a lower level than might usually be the case. This was reported to be a result of some discontinuity resulting from a student teacher being reluctant to cover physics and chemistry material at an earlier stage with the class concerned. It is recommended that where student teachers are allowed to take a class, the curricular needs of the students in that class should be paramount. To this end it is suggested that the school develop a policy to govern the respective roles of student teachers and the teachers assigned to classes laying out clearly the responsibilities and duties of each role.
As stated earlier the science department has recently acquired state-of-the-art equipment for the incorporation of ICT in teaching and learning. While as yet this equipment has been little used, the subject plan for science includes reference to the potential use that can be made of ICT. It is recommended that the science department, perhaps in co-operation with other subject groups in the school, should begin to develop the potential of ICT for its work. In doing this they should seek the assistance of the local ICT adviser in Galway Education Centre.
The material of each class observed was clearly presented. In-class assessment took the form of questioning. Where best practice was evident, students were challenged to form a link between their practical work and the underlying theory. In such cases students made effective use of worksheets to collate results and make inferences. While in these classes there was a better balance between teacher and student activity, overall there is a need to explore means of having a greater bias towards student activity in science lessons. This is an area that should be addressed as part of ongoing departmental planning. Resources to support such activity are available from the Junior Science Support Service, Second-Level Support Service, and the Special Education Support Service either through contacting them directly or through their websites.
Class management was characterised by co-operation and attention and in the classes observed rapport between students and teacher varied from good to very good. It was noticeable that a high level of rapport was consistent with high levels of student activity. Students collaborated well in those classes which were characterised by student activity and their interest was especially well maintained where connections were made between the subject matter of the lesson and students’ everyday family life. Where student practical work was performed student safety was addressed at the outset of the class and appropriate precautions were taken. Teachers are commended on the quality of the interaction between them and their students. Records of student practical work performed are carefully maintained by students and are monitored regularly by teachers.
In this Gaeltacht school teachers are challenged, especially in more junior classes, through having to cater also for students whose first language is English and also those with very little Irish while also meeting the needs of Irish-speaking students. They are further challenged through having to do this with text resources which are largely in English. The teachers concerned are highly commended on the commitment, enthusiasm, effort and expertise that they have brought to meeting these challenges. The science staff acknowledges the recent arrival of the Irish-language resources for Science, prepared by COGG. While some use if being made of the resource material for student practical work, these additional resources have not yet had much effect. It is recommended that the science staff, as part of their planning for Science, should address the manner in which they are going to incorporate these new resources. There is an urgent need to develop a policy as the present situation where in at least one class students have two sets of records for their practical work is not sustainable.
The classes observed were all of mixed ability and the first-year class consisted of girls only. In all classes it was evident that students were engaged with the subject matter of the class and that learning was taking place. Such engagement is assisted by practices such as the provision of written feedback on homework and on practical notebooks as was observed in one class. It is recommended that Science staff extend further the practice of consistently providing feedback to students on their work.
As well as the formal school examinations students of Science in Coláiste Cholmcille are assessed as outlined in the Science plan. Students are assessed through their homework, monthly class assessments, and assessment of practical folders. The practice of continual assessment assists parents and teachers in evaluating their children’s progress at school, and along with high expectations on the part of teachers and parents, is central to raising of student achievement levels.
The policy of teachers on record keeping is laid out in the Science plan. Records are kept by each teacher of students’ practical work, homework, and assessment results and student diaries are a means of communication by teachers with parents.
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 the principal and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.