An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science
Coláiste Éamann Rís
Callan, County Kilkenny
Roll number: 61510R
Date of inspection: 19 March 2009
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN SCIENCE
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Éamann Rís, Callan. 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 teacher. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Science is a core subject at Coláiste Éamann Rís, Callan. All science classes are of mixed ability. Classes retain the same science teacher throughout junior cycle so that continuity in teaching is maintained. Science and Agricultural Science are core subjects in the optional Transition Year (TY) programme. It is evident from the content of this programme that students are better prepared for making an informed choice of science subjects for Leaving Certificate. Three single class periods per week are allocated to Science in TY and two single class periods are allocated to Agricultural Science in TY.
Students and parents are well supported regarding subject and programme choice at senior cycle. Programme coordinators, subject teachers and the school guidance service provide an insight for students into senior cycle programmes and subjects available. Science provision at senior cycle is very good. The subject, Physics and Chemistry combined, and Agricultural Science are offered to students and the uptake of these subjects is very good.
Time allocation to Science at junior cycle is satisfactory with one double and two single class periods per week. Time allocation to the senior Physics and Chemistry combined subject and to Agricultural Science is also satisfactory with one double and three single class periods allocated to these subjects each week. The school has one laboratory which is well maintained with equipment stored in an orderly manner. In addition, the laboratory is enhanced with posters and charts. There is an adjoining preparation and storage room with a separate chemical store. Access to the laboratory is good and all science lessons are scheduled there. A laboratory access timetable, clearly displayed, is recommended.
Teachers of Science are deployed to junior and senior classes in accordance with their qualifications. It is desirable that all teachers of Science are assigned to the teaching of junior Science as well as their senior science specialism. This allows for diversity of teaching experiences at junior and senior cycle. It is recommended that senior management takes this into consideration when timetabling teachers to Science. At present some teachers are teaching exclusively at senior cycle. This should be addressed by senior management. Teachers are encouraged and facilitated to attend relevant in-service courses and to enhance their ongoing professional development and have availed of many in-service opportunities.
The school has a health and safety policy in place, incorporating a section on Science. Safety equipment was in evidence in each laboratory and laboratory rules were on display. It is recommended that the existing facility for chemical storage be upgraded, to include colour coded storage of chemicals and the provision of flame proof cabinets in line with best safety practice. The health and safety policy is also in need of review and it is recommended that this takes place in the near future.
Information and communications technology (ICT) facilities have been enhanced since a previous evaluation of Science in 2005. Currently, there is a laptop and a personal computer in the laboratory with access to a data-projector and screen. The computer room is also available as needed. As available resources allow, the further enhancement of ICT facilities in the laboratory is recommended so that over time ICT can be further integrated into the teaching and learning of Science.
Students are encouraged to partake in a range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities and student success is highlighted in the school newsletters and in the local media. To further enhance students’ awareness of science events and competitions, it is recommended that a science notice board be put in a prominent place in the school.
Senior management provides time for subject planning and this takes place at school staff days in August and January. In addition, the science department meets formally each term and informally on an ongoing basis to monitor, review and evaluate their work. Minutes from meetings provide evidence of consistent and worthwhile science department planning. The science coordinator convenes the meetings and also monitors the stock-taking of the laboratory. With further deployment of staff to the teaching of junior science, the school may wish to consider the rotation and expansion of this role in future years.
The extent of science planning is excellent. Students’ individual work is very well monitored. The science teachers maintain a coursework completion checklist, a record of grades for practical work completed and monitor and analyse results. This is very praiseworthy. In addition, a junior cycle curriculum checklist is maintained. The scheme of work for each year group is very good. Individual year plans for first, second and third years address many key areas including; student ability, rationale of teaching, student learning experiences, relevant research and active methodologies.
A wide-ranging science plan addressing science provision at junior and senior cycle has been drawn up collaboratively. It is very good that the recommendations made in a previous science inspection report have been addressed and substantially fulfilled. Over the coming years, this plan should be expanded to include long-term goals for science development in the school. For example, areas worth addressing may include results analysis of state examinations, uptake of science subjects at senior cycle and promotion of science to students. This plan should be drawn up electronically in future years so that it can easily be updated. The focus of the TY plan is very good and demonstrates a strong commitment to applications of Science and activity-based learning. It is recommended that the TY plan be redrafted, from the point of view of structure, to bring it in line with Department guidelines on writing the TY programme.
Very effective planning was in evidence in advance of lessons observed. Practical equipment was set up in advance and was ready to use. The content of lessons was well planned. The very good lesson planning led to the successful learning outcomes observed being achieved.
A positive environment for learning was created in all lessons. The quality of learning and teaching was very high. There was evidence that students enjoyed the learning experience. Students, for the most part, were motivated to learn and encouraged to do so by being sufficiently challenged. The classroom rapport was very good. Students were affirmed, received individual support when needed and most students worked with confidence on the tasks assigned.
Lesson objectives were set out at the start of some lessons and learning was reinforced by key aspects of lessons being summarised at the conclusion. It is recommended that this good practice be extended.
Students were active in learning and worked in groups to complete an assigned task. During one TY lesson observed, students worked in small groups and were set the challenge of designing a system, with limited materials, of protecting an egg from breaking when dropped from a height. The fact that team teaching was deployed ensured that enhanced student support was in place and this is very effective. This task led to much discussion, collaboration and inventiveness in line with TY aims and programme guidelines. To enhance the critical thinking skills of students, a plenary discussion and questioning session on the scientific principles of this investigation could have been incorporated into the lesson.
Investigative practical work was promoted in all lessons evaluated. In one lesson observed, students were working on their Junior Certificate coursework examination assignments. Small groups ensured a hands-on experience for all students. Individual and group support was very good and differentiated teaching practices were in evidence. The majority of students had a clear understanding of the investigation objectives. All students should be aware of these objectives, and to ensure this is the case, it is recommended that these objectives be clearly written up on the board in advance and reference made to this material as necessary throughout the lesson. In addition, safety glasses should always be worn during appropriate investigations so that eyes are protected from possible splashes when handling hazardous liquids. Students were challenged to come up with solutions to problems posed during a further lesson observed. The separation of rock salt into its constituents formed the theme of this lesson. The lesson progressed seamlessly with students taking ownership of their own learning and reaching very successful learning outcomes.
Methodologies were varied with high levels of student participation in all lessons. However, there was scope for the appropriate use of ICT in some lessons, in particular in linking lesson content to everyday applications of Science. It is recommended that further use of the data-projector, internet and CD resources be introduced at appropriate intervals in relevant lessons.
There was effective use of questioning in all lessons observed. Questioning was used as an ongoing learning strategy and complemented the investigative approach to learning adopted. Interest was heightened in many instances by the use of probing questions. 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.
Increased uptake of higher-level science provides evidence that students are being challenged to reach their potential. Ongoing formative assessment integrated into the day-to-day classroom activities should help ensure that a larger proportion of students achieve to their ability in Science. In addition, monitoring of uptake and attainment at higher-level should form part of science planning.
Formal examinations take place at Christmas and summer with pre-examinations for third and sixth year classes in February. In addition, there is an Easter assessment, class tests on completion of a section of the course and very good records of these results are maintained. Ongoing assessment practices are in place for TY students and these students receive certificates of their achievements during the school’s awards night at the end of the academic year. Senior management analyses certificate examination results and compares to national norms which should inform future science department planning.
A parent-teacher meeting is held annually for each year group with the exception of TY. Parents of TY students are provided with the opportunity to meet teachers at the subject choice information evening. Reports are sent to parents on three occasions throughout the year.
There is close liaison between the science department and the learning support department regarding students with additional needs, including those with special needs and those in need of language support.
The science department recognises the importance of practical investigation and allocates a portion of the marks of term examinations to completion of the student record of practical work. This is excellent. Records of practical investigations are generally of good standard. However, in an effort to improve the standard of all, there is a need to further monitor and annotate notebooks to ensure that students consistently maintain notebooks of high quality. This would also promote and raise student attainment.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Science is a core subject at Coláiste Éamann Rís. Science provision at senior cycle is very good with Physics and Chemistry combined and Agricultural Science on
offer to students. The uptake of these subjects is very good.
· The laboratories are maintained to a good standard with equipment stored in an orderly manner.
· The extent of junior science planning is excellent. The scheme of work for each year group is very good. Individual year plans for first, second and third years address many
key areas. Very effective planning was in evidence in advance of lessons observed.
· The quality of learning and teaching was very high. Investigative practical work was promoted in all lessons evaluated. There was effective use of questioning in all lessons observed.
· Increased uptake of higher-level science provides evidence that students are challenged to reach their potential.
· Very good assessment practices are in place.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The existing facility for chemical storage should be upgraded, to include colour coded storage of chemicals and the provision of flame proof cabinets.
· The school has a health and safety policy in place, incorporating a section on Science, however it is currently in need of review and it is recommended that this takes
place in the near future. Safety glasses should always be worn during appropriate investigations.
· Consideration should be given to enhancing ICT facilities in the laboratory as available resources allow and ICT should be further integrated into the teaching and learning of Science.
· It is desirable that all teachers of Science are assigned to the teaching of junior Science as well as their senior science specialism. It is recommended that senior
management takes this into consideration when timetabling teachers to Science.
· Further monitoring and annotation of practical notebooks would ensure that students consistently maintain notebooks of high quality.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Science, together with the principal and deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published January 2010
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board welcome the report and would like to add the follow up actions listed below
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
1. As previously notified the Health and Safety Policy has been updated in May 2009
2. A second teacher has been added to the rota in Junior cert as per the recommendations in the Inspection report.
3. The colour coding of chemicals will be addressed in this school year.
4. The ICT recommendations will be addressed when resource become available.