An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Biology
Swords, County Dublin
Roll number: 60383I
Date of inspection: 7 May 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Biology
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Choilm. 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 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 deputy principal and the science co-ordinator. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Three curricular programmes are available in Coláiste Choilm: the Junior Certificate, an optional Transition Year (TY) programme and the established Leaving Certificate. Science is a core subject at junior cycle and all students have access to the subject. All classes are of mixed ability. The school offers four science subjects at senior cycle level-Agricultural Science, Biology, Chemistry and Physics-as well as Science in TY. Students are supported in their choice of subject through individual guidance from their subject teachers as well as through the guidance counsellor and information evenings on subject choice for both students and parents.
The school has three science laboratories and one demonstration room. These are well maintained. Students’ work and a range of science posters are displayed on the classroom walls. It is commendable that all four rooms are broadband enabled and that each contains a ceiling mounted data projector and laptop. There is also a further laptop and data projector available for classroom based work. Management reported that the parents’ council was instrumental in the provision of many of the information and communication technology (ICT) facilities in the science department. Access by class groups to the laboratories is arranged by the science team at the beginning of the school year and priority is generally given to certificate examination classes and double periods. Management reported that it is a challenge to organise appropriate access for science classes and that, at times, the three laboratories are not sufficient to accommodate all the Junior and Leaving Certificate classes on the timetable. There are also occasions when all the general purpose classrooms are occupied and it is necessary to timetable some non-science classes for the laboratory. It is recommended that, in the interests of health and safety, the timetabling of non-science subjects in the laboratories be kept to a minimum.
The three science laboratories and the demonstration room are linked to a common preparation and storage area. This area is well stocked and an annual budget is provided for the sciences. The co-ordinator holds responsibility for the monitoring and ordering of stock. A code of conduct for the laboratory was displayed prominently in each laboratory. It is also distributed to students and parents as a contract to be signed. These signed documents are retained by the science department. The preparation and storage area is well organised and much of the apparatus and equipment for the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate experiments is arranged in boxed kits. This level of organisation is commendable. Appropriate health and safety equipment was visible in all laboratories. A health and safety statement has been devised by the science team and an accident report book was displayed prominently in the preparation area. There is scope to add a list of numbers for the emergency services to this display.
Members of the science team have availed of the in-service training provided by the support services set up for the implementation of the revised Leaving Certificate biology and Junior Certificate science syllabuses. Management is commended for facilitating this in-service. The science department places emphasis on co-curricular and extracurricular activities as a method of supplementing the classroom environment. These activities include trips to the zoo, the botanic gardens and to the BT Young Science and Technology Exhibition as well as in-school activities during science week.
The science department is coordinated effectively. The role of the subject co-ordinator includes stock control, the chairing of subject department meetings and liaison with senior management.
No planning documentation was made available during the inspection process. However, some indication of progress could be ascertained from lists of the mandatory practical activities for both senior cycle Biology and Junior Certificate Science displayed in the preparation area. Tables of curriculum content for fifth and sixth year Biology were also displayed in the preparation area. These depicted topics to be covered during the year and progress to date. It is recommended that the lists of topics to be completed be distributed to students to facilitate their planning for revision. There is also scope to encourage students to download the syllabus from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) website. Resources used in the planning of lessons were well organised. CD ROMs, videos and biosets have been catalogued. In addition, a range of textbooks, encyclopaedias and reference materials is available in the preparation room.
TY students were on work experience at the time of the evaluation. The TY science course is split into three areas: Biology, Chemistry and Physics. Information gathered at in-service courses and materials from the Transition Year Support Service (TYSS) are used in the planning for TY and this is commendable. It was reported that, in planning for the TY programme in the school, the range of methodologies to be used includes project work, debates, presentations, games and experimental work.
All the lessons observed began with a roll call. The aim or topic of the lesson was outlined at the start of the lesson. A range of appropriate methodologies was employed to enhance the lessons observed. Commendably, these were varied and visibly encouraged student engagement. This is good practice. Where materials and apparatus were used to supplement the lesson these had been prepared in advance. This good short term planning served to enhance the quality of teaching and learning in the lessons.
In some lessons homework was corrected at the outset. This was usually done through initial checking by the teacher followed by individual students checking their own work while answers were discussed. The content of lessons was usually linked to students’ prior learning. A number of lessons involved revision for the certificate examinations where good use was made of resources such as the data projector, CD ROMs, overhead projector (OHP) and questions from past examination papers. It is praiseworthy that teachers regularly used the whiteboard to reinforce learning and to record students’ input.
In a revision lesson, good practice was observed where students were asked to recapitulate on and relate procedures used in practical activities. Specific techniques appropriate to individual practicals were discussed. Good use was made of examples of equipment used and diagrams of the apparatus employed. This served to augment the comprehensive revision provided. In some lessons teachers made good use of OHP transparencies to check labelling on diagrams.
In all lessons visited, many references were made to the everyday life applications of Science. Good practice was observed where teachers made use of familiar materials and resources to enhance the lesson and make it more relevant to students’ everyday lives. One example of this was where the teacher had set out a range of plants such as algae, ferns and a potted plant, in order to clarify and explain the topic being taught.
Discipline was generally sensitively maintained. Teachers displayed good classroom management skills. Where chorus answering occurred it was discouraged immediately and this is good practice. Questioning was used as an ongoing learning and teaching strategy. In most cases, questions requiring reflection and consideration were well used to encourage students to explore difficult concepts and ideas. Students exhibited good confidence in answering questions on their work during the lessons observed and student outcomes in terms of skills and knowledge as observed were very good. Students readily contributed to the lessons and their participation was encouraged and affirmed by the teacher. When questioned, students showed a good level of knowledge of the topic taught and could provide clear explanations.
Common tests are administered in first and second year where feasible and this is good practice. These include a percentage allocation for the standard of work in the practical notebooks at the end of the year. This is praiseworthy as it mirrors the practical element of the certificate examinations.
A number of student notebooks were observed. These were generally well maintained and this is to be encouraged. There was evidence of checking and annotation in some notebooks; this good practice should be extended across the subject department. It is recommended that the science team explores how follow-up on corrections made by the teacher can be encouraged.
Mandatory practical books contained an appropriate number of practical write-ups. Written homework was generally corrected at the beginning of lessons and allocated at the end. This structured approach is commended. Where homework is allocated, students were generally given time to note it in their student journals; this good practice should be extended across the science department.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The school has three science laboratories and one demonstration room; these rooms are well resourced with ICT equipment to support teaching and learning.
· Appropriate health and safety equipment was visible in all laboratories.
· The science department is effectively coordinated.
· Resources used in the planning of lessons were found to be well organised.
· A range of appropriate methodologies was employed to enhance the lessons observed.
· Good practice was observed where teachers made use of familiar materials to enhance the lesson and make it more relevant to students’ everyday lives.
· Questioning was used effectively as an ongoing learning and teaching strategy.
· Students readily contributed to the lessons and their participation was encouraged and affirmed by the teachers.
· Mandatory practical books contained an appropriate number of practical write-ups
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that, in the interests of health and safety, the timetabling of non-science subjects in the laboratories be kept to a minimum.
· It is recommended that the lists of syllabus topics to be completed be distributed to students to facilitate their planning for revision.
· It is recommended that the science team explores how better follow-up on corrections made by the teacher can be achieved.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the co-ordinator of Science and Biology and with the deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published January 2010