An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies
Meánscoil San Nioclás
Rinn Ó gCuanach, County Waterford
Roll number: 76066J
Date of inspection: 1 December 2006
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Meánscoil San Nioclás. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies 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 the subjects teacher.
Meánscoil San Nioclás is situated in the heart of Gaeltacht na Rinne. Although the school is small in enrolment, a good effort has been made to provide a wide curriculum. The technology subjects provided in the school include Technical Drawing agus the junior and senior cycle subjects, which are the focus of this inspection, Materials Technology (Wood) (MTW) and Construction Studies (CS). As there is just one teacher of MTW and CS, the joint planning for these subjects is limited, but the school gives every encouragement to the teacher to undertake effective planning. Nevertheless, the sizable amount of collaboration between the teacher of MTW and CS and the teacher of drawing, at present the acting principal, was noted. These teachers have planning meetings from time to time. This joint planning will focus on the development of the new workshop for the time being and it is a good support for subject development. It is evident that this good planning practice will continue and this is commended.
It was evident during the inspection that the teachers know one another very well. This would be expected in a school as small as this, but it’s also obvious that the whole staff are very interested in the development of the school and that there is true friendship between them. The positive atmosphere was felt in the good communication between the management of the school and the MTW and CS department and this is of great assistance as a support for self-evaluation and the evaluation of subject development planning. The support that is being given by the school to the continuous professional development (CPD) of the teachers is commended. CPD is most important to the technologies at present as the new Leaving Certificate syllabuses are being launched in Design and Communication Graphics (DCG) and in Technology. The dedication of school and teachers in making long journeys to Irish language medium sessions when available is laudable.
In the two cycles, junior and senior, the time allocation for the subjects in general was adequate to complete the work of the respective syllabus. The allocation of four class periods, divided between two double classes for MTW in second year and in third year, was good. In first year every student studies MTW. The class is divided in two with each half taking the subject for a half year. This is commended as a way of giving every student the opportunity to get a taste of the subject before deciding on subject options in second year. The time in first year was arranged in one double period and two single periods. In first year emphasis is placed on practical work and the design work of the students. For the benefit of facilitating this practical work, and in particular if it equally suits the subject being studied by the other half of the class, it is recommended that a second double class period be provided in first year as well as in the other years. The Transition Year had three class periods in the subject per week. In the senior cycle the allocation was four periods per week for CS. There was only one student studying the subject in sixth year and the students in the two years are taught in the one class. An objective of the school is to separate the two years as soon as possible and this is commended. The distribution of the periods over the week was balanced for the different classes.
Meánscoil San Nioclás and the board of management are to be commended for the good support given to MTW and CS by providing tools, materials and facilities as appropriate. Although there is no particular budget for MTW and BC, it is standard procedure for the school to be understanding of any application that comes from the subject department to provide items. For the benefit of planning in the subject department, it is suggested that an annual budget be provided for the subject department to purchase the usual class materials. Included in this are class materials and consumable goods only such as sandpaper, nails and such. Although the subject department is functioning effectively in relation to the use of materials, it could be encouraged to even greater economy in its planning if it had a recognised budget.
At present there is one room being used to teach the technologies and Art. Although this arrangement was suitable when the new building was constructed in 2003 enrolment has increased since then. The way in which the teaching staff of the subjects arranged the room and utilized it effectively until now is commended. Although there are woodwork benches for only eight students in the room, with no space for any more, the teacher’s creativity and good organization allow classes of fourteen to study MTW there. The staff of the school as a whole understands well, however, the urgency in relation to providing a workshop for the technologies now and they are active regarding this. The school’s board of management, in-school management, caretaker, members of the parents’ council and the teaching staff are commended on the tremendous work that has already been done in developing a new workshop in the Halla De Hindeberg building. The interest and energy that has already been put into this important and far-sighted initiative is evident and every encouragement is given to bring it to completion. There is no dust extraction system in the woodwork and art room at present and it is recommended that such should be included in the new workshop, making provision for it as soon if possible.
Consistent with the school in general, the maintenance of resources for the provision of MTW and CS is of the highest quality, including the room, furniture, tools and equipment. The ICT facilities available for the technologies in the school are of the best quality. The software AutoCAD© is available on the computers in the computer room and regular use is made of it for Technical Drawing in Transition Year and in the senior cycle. It is an objective of the subject department to install the three dimensional computer-aided design (CAD) software which will be chosen for DCG, on the computers as soon as the decision is made. It is advised that this new CAD programme be introduced to the MTW and CS students as soon as possible and that they utilize it in their design work from the beginning. The same CAD programme will be used in the new Architectural Technology course in the future and the earlier students begin to use it the greater the benefit for them.
It is commended that every student gets a taste of MTW in first year. The choice of either MTW or Home Economics for second year is greatly supported by this provision. It also assists with gender balance that every student has experience of the two subjects and that they have a free choice between them. Taking the enrolment of the school into account, it’s good that every student has this opportunity. Again, before making subject options for senior cycle the students get a taste of woodwork which helps them to make the proper choice. Subject choice is discussed with students in Transition year and in the course of one designated week all teachers place particular emphasis on it. The guidance counsellor advises every student, in first year and in fourth year in particular, about making the suitable choice and this is of great help to them. The free choice of the students is the main determinant of subject options in senior cycle and this is commended.
The MTW and CS teaching team is commended for the preplanning for the subjects, both short-term and the long-term. The written planning, presented during the inspection, was coherent, comprehensive and corresponded to the needs of the curriculum. Reference was made, not just to the material that was to be covered but to the teaching and learning strategies that were to be used and to the objectives, targets and assessment methods that were to be used. It was obvious that planning is done carefully to suit the students’ work to their capability and the design process is utilized to bring this about. Reference was also made to the cross curriculum work, in particular with Art in the design process, and further development in this has been urged.
Great use is made of ICT to teach the subjects and the planning for this is of a high quality. The very good use of the data projector is applauded and particularly the use of PowerPoint slides as an aid, as there is no Irish language textbook available at present.
The emphasis on health and safety in the workshop is good. There were safety signs situated near every machine. The creative strategies adopted to draw the students’ attention to the importance of wearing protective glasses are particularly commendable. In using a machine the student had to remove the safety sign to access the switch before turning it on. This was a good way of keeping the safety issue to the forefront for the students. To achieve excellence in this it is suggested that the general behaviour rules for the room be displayed on the wall and that the rules relating to the use of each machine be displayed beside the machine in question. It is also suggested that safe operational areas be marked with lines on the floor around every machine. The marking of these lines serves the purpose of drawing the students’ attention to safety as well as providing a safe environment. Thus it is recommended that a sign be displayed beside them to inform the students of the implications of the lines being there. It is suggested primarily that the new workshop be laid out according to the guidelines and that the safe operational areas ar marked on the floor from the beginning. It is recommended that the document Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post-primary Schools (State Claims Agency, Department of Education and Science, 2005) be referenced while discussing health and safety issues in the workshop.
The teaching methods in use during the inspection were well suited to the abilities, needs and interests of the students’,. In one junior cycle class a project was being completed. This project consisted of a key rack and some of the students were ready to apply a surface finish to it. Having shown the students who were ready how to clean the wood with glasspaper and rub bees wax into it with a cloth, the teacher allowed them do this themselves. The demonstration was clear. Good use was made of questioning to maintain the students’ interest. The students were successful in undertaking the work showing that they understood it and that their skills were being developed. Concurrently the other students were working on other elements of the project. The good management in the room was obvious. Although there was not a vice for every student their management to ensure that they could continue with their work is commended, some being able to use the vice while others were surface finishing the wood.
The teacher clarified the lesson’s objective at the outset in the case of each lesson observed during the inspection. The lessons were very good structurally which helped greatly with the students’ learning. Use was made of a wide range of teaching strategies in the classes visited. The questioning was careful and skillful and the framing of the questions suitably in line with the students’ abilities is commended. At the end of one lesson in senior cycle students were asked to make a poster to illustrate the material they had learned. They worked in groups on this task and the results of the work were to be displayed on the wall beside similar work already there. The completion of this work was given to the students as homework. There was a strong emphasis on the Irish language throughout all the lessons and each new term was written on the white board so that the students would remember it. This is commended as an effective way to expand the students’ technical vocabulary. To further improve this very good practice, it is recommended that the new terms be placed on the wall to be more available to the students. This could possibly be achieved by means of plastic document pockets stuck to big posters, a creative good practice seen being used effectively with notes and graphics on the walls in the room.
The emphasis placed on design in MTW from first year onwards is laudable. Through the use of the CNC router to allow the students to plan and show their choice of pattern on the key rack, and through giving them the opportunity to put their own shape on part of it, a good start has been made in the teaching of design to first year students.
As a result of the absence of suitable textbooks in Irish, textbooks are not being used for MTW or CS at present. To circumvent the problem, as already stated, the teacher’s notes with plenty of photographs and other graphics are being used on PowerPoint slides . These notes are used during the classes. Hardcopies of the slides are distributed amongst the students to use for study and for revision. This good practice is to be praised highly in particular until textbooks are published in Irish. In one of the lessons observed good use was made of video clips through the data projector to present timber-framed house building methods. This good practice is commended.
There was a pleasant atmosphere detected in each class visited in the course of the inspection. Although discipline was evident in all classes this was not forced but was willingly accepted. Mutual respect between students and teachers was obvious and this added to the positive feeling. The woodwork and art room was very inviting. There was much material on the walls relating to MTW and CS, including the students’ work and learning material developed by the teacher. One of the strategies stated in written subject planning was to establish discovery learning by leaving learning resources, including posters and sample pieces, in the room. It is obvious that this strategy was implemented and that it was effective. The display of subject-related information on the walls of the room is commended, particularly the posters made by the students themselves as revision.
In the practical lessons observed the teacher moved around to help the students with their work and it was normal for him to take every opportunity to encourage them to make improvements. The students’ knowledge and competence in the subjects was good for people of their age and they were effective in communicating when the inspector questioned them.
There are in-school formal examinationss in Meánscoil San Nioclás at Christmas and in the summer. In third year the students have a mock examination to prepare for the state examinations. As well as these formal examinationss there is also continuous assessment which is done on the project work of the students in MTW in second and third year and the average of these marks is included with the formal examination marks. In first year, while the students are studying MTW for one half of the year, with the emphasis on practical work, the students’ project work is assessed without a formal examination. In the senior cycle the drawings done in class and homework are assessed regularly.
As well as these assessment methods, it is a custom of the teaching staff of the technologies to complete informal assessments as part of every lesson. They assist the students, praising and encouraging them. This assessment is a great support for learning. In an MTW lesson observed a clever system was used to give feedback to the students on the practical work that they had done in the previous lesson. The teacher stuck labels to the projects and he wrote notes on them praising the students and giving them advice. This helped to begin the lesson promptly. The system is to be applauded particularly as assessment for learning. This creative system of assessment of the students’ practical work is commended. The assessment methods that have been implemented in MTW and CS are closely associated with the curriculum’s objectives. A record of the results of assessments is carefully kept.
Homework is given in the theory area of the subject to students in the second and third year of MTW and in the senior cycle in CS. In first year it is usual for design work on a project being undertaken at the time to be given as homework. Often, the students have to finish work that was started in class at home. Every student keeps his or her own notes on the work that is done in class and this work often has to be completed at home as well. There is a connection between class work and homework.
The students showed their interest in the subjects clearly during the inspection. They were for the most part enthusiastic in their work. Occasionally, when necessary, the teacher encouraged the students to greater activity, in a friendly and balanced way. The level of competency being achieved by the students in MTW and in CS is good and their skills and knowledge are fitting in relation to age and ability.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The emphasis on design, particularly in the teaching of MTW, is commended.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the teacher of Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies and with the Principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.