An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Physics
Catholic University School
89 Lower Leeson Street, Dublin 2
Roll number: 60540V
Date of inspection: 25 April 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Physics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Catholic University School 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 Physics and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of these subjects in the school. The evaluation was conducted over two days 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.
Junior Science is a core subject at junior cycle in Catholic University School. Classes are of mixed ability. There are four class groups in first year and second year and three class groups in third year. In the interests of continuity, it is recommended that teachers be facilitated to retain the same class group in second year and third year. In addition it is recommended, in the interests of best practice, that the teaching of a particular class group is not split between two teachers and that students are not timetabled for Science on more than one occasion each day.
Modules in Physics, Chemistry and Biology form part of the compulsory Transition Year (TY) programme in the school. It is commendable that each module is taught by a subject specialist teacher. Each subject is allocated four single class periods per week. However, it is recommended that consideration be given to allocating TY Science with a double class period as part of this allocation so that there is sufficient time to complete practical activities in a single session. In addition, modules based on practical work and project activities have been introduced. Physics, Chemistry and Biology are offered at senior cycle and uptake is good. There is one class group studying each senior Science subject in fifth year and sixth year.
Time allocation to Science at junior cycle and Physics at senior cycle is satisfactory. Junior Science classes are allocated one double and two single class periods and Physics, Chemistry and Biology are allocated one double and three single class periods in fifth year and one double and four single class periods in sixth year. Double class periods take place in a laboratory.
There are six teachers in the Science department in Catholic University School. It is recommended that science teachers are encouraged to avail of the continuous professional development (CPD) provided in their subject area and be facilitated to attend inservice courses on the revised Science syllabus offered by the Junior Science Support Service. It is important that CPD forms part of science planning and that best practice is shared following CPD.
The school has four laboratories, the most recent addition being the Biology laboratory, which forms part of the new school extension. The laboratories, none of which have preparation/storage rooms, are in separate locations around the school. Equipment and chemicals are generally neatly stored in locked presses. The absence of proper chemical storage is of concern and it is recommended, in accordance with the health and safety audit recently carried out in the school, that a proper and safe chemical storage facility be put in place. It is also important that fume hoods are not used as storage facilities. A draft health and safety statement has been drawn up. However, before enactment by the board of management it is recommended that Science teachers be consulted on relevant sections so that all possible laboratory hazards are identified including those relating to gas and electrical facilities. The laboratories visited have appropriate safety equipment in place including fire extinguishers and safety blankets.
Some information and communication technology (ICT) facilities are available in the Science department. These include two laptop computers and data logging equipment. However, it is recommended that school management gives consideration to enhancing ICT facilities in the Science department. In addition a central bank of ICT and other resources should be developed. Training in ICT should be considered, for example modular courses on the use of ICT in the classroom are available from the Second Level Support Service (SLSS).
Students have participated in many extra-curricular and out-of-school activities, which include student participation in the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, Science Week activities and visits to third-level institutions. It is recommended that a dedicated Science notice board be maintained in an effort to promote Science related activities, projects and competitions in the school.
Some teachers maintained good individual planning documentation. These included general schemes of work for classes on a term basis. In addition there were some individual class plans available. Some teachers kept folders of relevant resource materials which included syllabus and assessment material. However, the Science department has not developed a collaborative Science plan and it is recommended that one be developed over time. In addition to the schemes of work for all classes, this plan could include teaching strategies, class organisation, cross-curricular links and assessment procedures.
The school does not have a Science co-ordinator and it is recommended that an annual rotating science co-ordinator be nominated in an effort to streamline the collaborative planning for Science in the school. The duties of the Science co-ordinator could include organising, chairing and recording minutes of subject planning meetings; organising the development of the Science plan, incorporating the TY plan; overseeing the maintenance of Science laboratories and prioritising materials and equipment needed. Minutes taken should be relayed to school management and filed in the Science plan. A TY Science plan is in place. However, this plan is in need of review to incorporate more innovative and applied activities and needs to incorporate evaluation strategies, methodologies, links with other subjects and resources. There is no specific Science budget; however teachers order materials on a needs basis. Laboratories are generally well stocked with necessary equipment.
Good planning was in place in advance of lessons observed. Resources and practical equipment were ready in advance and this contributed to the overall successful outcomes of lessons observed.
Students were generally aware of lesson objectives at the outset of each lesson. Lessons were well structured and well organised. Students were generally addressed by name and there was clear affirmation of work well answered or work completed by students. There was a strong sense of motivation, which led to a good atmosphere of learning in all lessons observed.
A variety of methodologies were used effectively in many lessons. The blackboard or whiteboard was used as an aid to focus students’ attention on key lesson material and to highlight key words and key ideas. However, many lessons would have been further enhanced with the use of other methodologies and it is recommended that consideration be given to the focused use of the overhead projector and ICT in some lessons. In addition, it is recommended that differentiated methodologies be enhanced in some lessons so that the minority of students who are following an ordinary-level course are assigned relevant work within their ability and aptitude, are supported in their learning and are closely monitored in relation to progress.
Worksheets were distributed in many lessons. These were completed by students or were used as a homework assignment. In all cases the worksheets were either relevant to the lesson content or were of a revision nature. Students also completed past examination papers and workbook assignments. In many lessons teachers circulated the room providing individual help and support as students worked. This is commended.
Questioning was used effectively in all lessons. Many lessons began with revision questions on material covered previously in class. In this way students were well challenged to come up with solutions to problems posed. Students were often guided and encouraged until the correct answer was forthcoming and were affirmed and supported. This is commended. Many questions were asked by students to aid their understanding and lively class discussions often followed.
Teacher demonstrations formed an effective part of some lessons observed. However, it is important, in the interests of an investigative approach to learning, that students are encouraged to predict experiment outcomes rather than being told these outcomes in advance.
Students carried out practical investigations during some lessons observed. There was good emphasis on health and safety procedures with students wearing safety goggles when needed and in all cases teachers supervised and instructed students in the safe handling of equipment. There was an example where students were investigating rates of reaction of substances at various temperatures. The equipment was ready in advance and the key ideas behind the investigation were explained with clarity. There was another example where students were examining the outcomes of an investigation, carried out on the previous day, showing the presence of microorganisms in a variety of places. The results were discussed in detail and probing questions were set for students so that they were sufficiently challenged to come up with appropriate solutions. There was very good enthusiasm demonstrated by students for the tasks assigned. Group work was used in some activities. However, it is recommended, in the interests of all students getting ‘hands on’ experience at practical investigations, that groups be maintained at no more than two or three students.
Some TY lessons were observed in the course of the evaluation. It is recommended that TY lesson content be taught in an innovative way. This is especially important when Leaving Certificate material is included in the course. In many cases there is scope for redevelopment of the course material to include more applied aspects of Science and to link the course material in a stronger way to everyday life applications of Science.
Lessons with third and sixth-year groups were of a revision nature in preparation for the Certificate examinations. There was an example where students were revising aspects of Biology. Students were challenged to answer probing questions and key words that came up were written up on the whiteboard to focus attention and as a reference for further discussion. This is highly commended. There was another example where students were revising diffraction. Advanced concepts were explained with precise clarity. Sample problems were written up on the blackboard and solutions were worked out with good participation from the class group. This is highly commended. Students referenced their teacher-prepared notes expertly throughout the lesson.
There was good emphasis on linking Science concepts to everyday life in some lessons observed. There was an example where students were discussing force and pressure. Relevant everyday problems were posed and students were encouraged to come up with solutions. There was very good affirmation of students who made efforts to solve the problems posed. This is highly commended.
The uptake of higher-level Science and Physics is very good. Answers to questions posed in the course of the evaluation demonstrated that student outcomes in terms of knowledge and skills were very good and that students were generally confident in tackling their assigned work.
A system of continuous assessment is in place for junior cycle students. This is commended. There are common summer examinations for first-year and second-year students. ‘Mock’ examinations take place for third and sixth-year students and these papers are corrected by the relevant subject teachers. TY students sit three examinations over the course of the year. There is ongoing assessment and revision for all classes by means of short class tests and class questioning.
Parents are well informed of student progress. Two parent-teacher meetings are held for each class group. A series of monthly reports are sent to parents of junior cycle students. Fifth and sixth-year students receive four reports per year. Parents of TY students receive reports following each examination.
The homework examined was generally completed to a good standard and was assigned at the conclusion of many lessons observed.
Students generally keep good records of their practical investigations. Annotated feedback was provided by some teachers. This is commended. However, it is recommended that this good practice be extended across the Science department and that there is follow-up on corrections completed by students. The good practice of allocating a portion of the marks in school examinations for practical work completed and recorded should also be extended to all science classes in an effort to improve the quality of this work.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Junior Science is a core subject.
· Transition Year Science consists of core modules with additional optional applied modules. These are taught by subject specialist teachers.
· Physics, Chemistry and Biology are offered at senior cycle and the uptake of these subjects is good.
· Laboratories are generally well maintained and well stocked with necessary equipment.
· Students are well supported in making informed choices regarding Leaving Certificate Science subjects.
· Lessons were well planned and organised and had a clear structure. A good atmosphere of learning prevailed in all lessons.
· Effective use was made of questioning.
· Students exhibited good problem-solving skills.
· The uptake of higher-level Science and Physics is very good.
· Students were generally confident at answering questions on their work during the lessons observed.
· There are thorough assessment practices in place.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Teachers should be facilitated to retain the same class group in second year and third year. Classes should not be split between two teachers and students should not be timetabled for the same subject on more than one occasion each day.
· Consideration should be given to allocating TY Science with a double class period.
· A science plan should be developed over time. The TY science plan is in need of review to incorporate more innovative and applied activities and needs to incorporate evaluation strategies, methodologies, links with other subjects and resources. An annual rotating position of science co-ordinator should be created in an effort to streamline the collaborative planning of Science in the school.
· In accordance with the health and safety audit recently carried out in the school, a proper and safe chemical storage facility should be put in place.
· School management should give consideration to enhancing ICT facilities in the science department. A central bank of ICT and other resources should be developed. Training in ICT should be considered.
· Differentiation methodologies should be enhanced in some lessons. Students should be encouraged to predict experiment outcomes during practical activities. In the interests of all students getting ‘hands on’ experience at practical investigations student groups should be maintained at no more than two or three students.
· It is recommended that TY lesson content be taught in an innovative way especially when Leaving Certificate material is included.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Science and Physics, together with the principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.