An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science
Meánscoil Muire gan Smál,
Roscommon, County Roscommon
Roll number: 65090S
Date of inspection: 11 February 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Meánscoil Muire gan Smál, Roscommon. 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 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. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Science is well supported by school management and the school has a strong science department with all of the science specialities represented. Although Science is an optional subject after first year a high proportion of students take it in classes of mixed ability in second year and third year. Timetabling of the subject is appropriate.
In senior cycle the option of taking a science subject is open to all. While Biology and Chemistry are the current senior science subjects, the school has had Physics and Chemistry (combined course) in recent years and in the past has had Physics. The school has ensured that students can take Physics through co-operation with a neighbouring school. The Transition Year (TY) is optional but taken by a high proportion of students and TY Science is balanced among Physics, Chemistry, and Biology. TY also has a short environmental science module. The school is commended on the strength of its provision for Science in Transition Year and it is suggested that it give consideration to again including Physics in its Leaving Certificate curriculum.
Students with additional educational needs are supported in Science through having their individual needs addressed within mainstream science classes and having additional classes. This is good practice.
Induction of new teachers of Science operates within the school’s overall induction policy and is undertaken by the science co-ordinator. The induction process should be documented within the science department’s plan.
Access by students to information and communication technologies (ICT) is provided through the school’s computer room. The school should develop its use of data logging and consider involving itself in the Discover Sensors project. Provision of ICT resources within the science area is being advanced and the use of ICT in the teaching and learning of Science is being actively promoted. There is a need however for further development of the use of ICT in teaching and learning and in the overall operation of the subject department.
Engagement in continuing professional development (CPD) is encouraged and facilitated by the school. It is suggested that the practice be established within the department of teachers engaging in CPD sharing the outcomes and insights gained with the rest of the subject department.
The laboratories have commendable displays of science charts and posters and samples of students’ work, including their projects for the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition. The number of laboratories is considered to be at best barely adequate for the implementation of the investigative approach that is intrinsic to the science syllabus. The access of students to the laboratories is co-operatively arranged by agreement among staff members. The science teachers are commended on this co-operation. As resources allow the school should include its science laboratory provision in its development plans and as far as possible the use of the laboratories should be restricted to science lessons.
There is a need to address the condition and general order of the school’s laboratories and preparation and storage areas. Some attention is required also in regard to the secure storage of chemicals. The disposal or permanent storage of disused or out-of-date science equipment should also be addressed. Further information may be obtained on the website of the Second Level Support Service. The system of stock control and ordering for the laboratories needs to be improved.
The commitment of the science teachers to safe practices in their work is reflected in the science department plan and the prominent display of safety notices. Due care and attention was given to the active management of health and safety during classes in line with the school’s safety statement. To further this and as part of the school’s health and safety procedures and to support the regular review of its safety statement, the science staff should carry out annual health and safety audits of the science laboratories. The work should be informed by the Department of Education and Science and State Claims Agency publication Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post-primary Schools (page 25) and the Department of Education and Science publication Safety in School Science.
The science teachers are commended on the very successful involvement of students over many years in the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition and also in Scifest. The school’s Astronomy Club is also a commendable support for science.
The science department carries out its planning activities in the context of subject department planning as facilitated by senior management. The department follows good practice in that the position of subject co-ordinator rotates on a regular basis. Records of subject department meetings should be documented electronically on a shared departmental folder on the school’s intranet so as to more easily allow for sharing of information.
Commendable collaboration has taken place among the science teachers in regard to several areas including the development of teaching kits for Science, planning for students with additional educational needs, and the development of the subject plan. Departmental planning might also examine the desirability of having a common approach by teachers to the organisation and monitoring of students’ work to accommodate changes of teacher as may happen following first year.
Good work has been done in the area of curricular planning in junior cycle, especially with regard to the first-year and second-year plans that have been prepared. With the inclusion of more detailed information on the timing of the topics to be covered and the learning objectives to be achieved each year, these plans have the potential to serve as a departmental curricular plan.
In senior cycle the TY science curriculum should be further developed through having its three modules outlined in terms of student learning outcomes. The department should consider having an emphasis within the programme on student activity and having a theme for each of the TY science modules.
Teachers had planned and prepared very well for the lessons observed. All required resources were to hand.
Good quality teaching and learning was evident in the lessons observed. Where very good practice was seen the learning objectives of lessons were shared with students thus encouraging them in taking responsibility for their learning. Very good practice was seen especially where the learning objectives of the lesson were used as a basis for informal assessment of students’ learning during and at the end of the lesson. This was particularly evident in one lesson on the skeleton.
There was a clear structure to each lesson and there was variety in the teaching methods used. In a number of lessons there was room for a greater emphasis on students’ contributions through having a closer balance between the contributions of the teacher and those of the students. In one lesson there was a particularly good linkage made with the previous day’s lesson with students’ answers being used very well to introduce the lesson topic. Resources, including ICT, were used effectively to enhance learning. Given the mixed-ability nature of all science classes more use should be made of keyword lists of science terms. Teachers should also refer to the recent Special Education Support Service (SESS) publication Science Differentiation in Action as a reference in planning for the range of student abilities.
Students’ practical work observed was well conducted and the teacher circulated, checking on students’ work and understanding. Overall it is suggested however that there is a need for a clearer emphasis on the investigative approach in relation to students’ practical work. Teachers, in presenting new material showed good practice by relating it to material previously learned including that in primary school, and to students’ lives.
Students participated well and contributed freely in each lesson and very good relationships were evident between teachers and students. Classroom management in all lessons was effective.
From students’ questions, answers to questions, general engagement in lessons and review of their written work, it was clear that they were learning.
Students’ work is assessed on a regular basis, both informally and through monitoring of their written work. It is recommended that the science department ensure that teachers adopt common practices for monitoring students’ work and that all work is monitored. These practices should include formative assessment that affirms students and offers advice and direction. The Assessment for Learning section of the NCCA website gives information on this. Teachers should also as a rule follow up on incomplete work or on other comments made on students’ work.
To ensure consistency, comparability and continuity the department should move towards having common examinations and assessment as far as is possible. Students’ performance of written work, including homework and of practical work should be reflected in the marks awarded in end-of-term examinations.
The school and the science department are highly commended on their regular analysis of the school’s State Examinations Commission science results and their comparison to national averages with regard to student performance and uptake of levels.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Science is well supported by school management and the school has a strong science department with all of the science specialities represented.
· The school is commended on the strength of its provision for Science in Transition Year.
· Students with additional educational needs are supported in Science through having additional classes and having their individual needs addressed within mainstream science classes.
· The science teachers are commended on the very successful involvement of students over many years in the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition and also in Scifest.
· Commendable collaboration has taken place among the science teachers.
· Good quality teaching and learning was evident in the lessons observed.
· The school and the science department are highly commended on their regular analysis of the school’s State Examinations Commission science results.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· There is a need for further development of the use of ICT in teaching and learning and in the overall operation of the subject department.
· The TY science curriculum should be further developed by the science department through having its three modules outlined in terms of student learning outcomes.
· The science department should adopt common practices for monitoring students’ work including formative assessment that affirms students and offers advice and direction.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Science and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published June 2009