An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Biology
Ringsend Technical Institute
Cambridge Road, Dublin 4
Roll number: 70200D
Date of inspection: 21 January 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Biology
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ringsend Technical Institute, 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 Biology and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of the 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 subject teachers.
Subject Provision and Whole School Support
Science is a core subject on the curriculum for all junior cycle students, including Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) students. This is commended. The majority of junior cycle students take the Junior Certificate examination in the subject and are timetabled for four periods per week in first year and for five periods per week in both second and third year. This represents good timetabling provision for the subject. Students following the JCSP are timetabled in small groups for a reduced number of lesson periods in Science. These students generally do not take the Junior Certificate examination in Science and study a reduced number of science topics. This is appropriate for the programme. All recommendations made in a previous inspection report in the sciences during 2003 were implemented and this is commended.
Biology is offered to all students in senior cycle for the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). The subject is chosen by approximately half of the students and one class group is formed each year. There is no other subject placed opposite Biology in the subject choices for LCVP. Those students who do not choose Biology may absent themselves from school at these times. This arrangement should be reviewed by senior management. Biology is timetabled for five class periods per week including two double periods and this is appropriate. One extra class period per week is provided on the school timetable for those students studying higher-level Biology. Also one extra period is provided separately for students with special educational needs (SEN) who study Biology. The purpose of this extra lesson is to focus on key terminology, to develop students’ literacy and to go over the week’s work. This is commended.
There are four laboratories in the school but only three of these are currently used for teaching and learning in the sciences. These three laboratories are shared by the four science teachers. The laboratories are located in two separate locations in the school. Each class group is timetabled for weekly laboratory access for double lessons and also for many of the single lessons in line with best practice.
The laboratories are stocked with ample resources for practical work in both Science and Biology. They are used only by the science teachers and this is in line with best practice. The laboratories are fitted to modern standards but the preparation areas are in need of some refurbishment. The storage of chemicals in the laboratories and in presses external to the laboratories needs to be immediately reviewed and all chemicals should be stored in one designated store room according to proper health and safety standards. Chemicals should be placed in different categories and in some cases in flameproof lockers. Information on the storage of chemicals can be obtained on the physical sciences website, http://chemistry.slss.ie/.
The laboratories have been enhanced with modern science charts and good visual stimulus material for a variety of topics. Audio-visual facilities, a computer and a data projector are available in one of the laboratories and these are used from time to time in science and biology lessons, usually to show video clips and topic-related resources on computer discs. The computer is also used to maintain records of the outcome of student tests in the subjects. The use of the computer to facilitate learning and for record keeping in this laboratory is highly commended. Such resources should feature in the other laboratories and it is recommended that, at the very least, a television and DVD player be installed in the other laboratories.
Continuing professional development (CPD) is supported by management. Science teachers have been facilitated in attending in-service in the revised science and biology syllabuses. CPD in two key areas is recommended for teachers of the sciences: Information Communication Technology (ICT) and special educational needs (SEN) provision. Some teachers should consider availing of computer training or networking with their science colleagues so that ICT can be more fully integrated into the teaching practices of all teachers and the use of available electronic resources can be extended. Given that science teachers have students with SEN in their classes and that many are involved in the provision of extra lessons for such students, some professional development training should be undertaken in this area.
Many co-curricular science activities take place and are evident throughout the school. The school has obtained the Green Flag and various energy saving notices are well placed around the school. A large greenhouse is located adjacent to one of the laboratories and is used with all groups to support learning in related topics; students learn how to sow seeds, take cuttings and grow herbs for use in their Home Economics lessons or to take home. This is highly commended and supports the needs of students who may not have access to their own garden. Teachers sometimes take students to visit the large park across the road from the school and to the local Nature Reserve in Irishtown to conduct ecology field work. Links have been established with Dublin Corporation’s Parks Supervisor for these events and this is commended.
Both formal and informal meetings of the science department take place during the year. Minutes are recorded for all formal meetings and the position of recorder is rotated. The meetings support the development of department collegiality and provide teachers with the opportunity to discuss the acquisition of resources for student practical work. In particular, teachers support each other in implementing Coursework B in Junior Certificate Science. This is commended.
An agreed science plan for the school has been developed through science department meetings. The school is encouraged to utilise the School Development Planning Initiative’s (SDPI) subject plan template for further development. This template would broaden the scope of the existing subject plan and develop it into a more long-term subject plan. It is further recommended, that as part of their planning meetings, science and biology teachers would take the opportunity to pool their individual topic-specific teaching and learning resources. This is especially important given the need for a variety of learning tools to meet the wide rang of student abilities in the school. The activity will allow the science department to discuss teaching and learning methodologies and to share best practice. The set of resources collated in this way could be then filed in a central location for use by all.
Planning for JCSP Science is still in a developmental stage as teachers are still adapting their work according to their experience of teaching the programme. Students are introduced to key scientific principles and skills deemed necessary for everyday life and for citizenship. Teachers draw somewhat from the official JCSP learning targets for Science and are developing some learning targets of their own. Topics covered include food, health, the human body and electricity. A significant amount of practical work is planned for. Teachers also plan to develop students’ literacy and to challenge students to learn as much as they can in a way that they can. Such work is commended. However, there is a need to record all such current planning for JCSP Science into an overarching and specific document for the subject. Furthermore, it is recommended that the school’s own JCSP Science learning targets be clearly documented. The JCSP science plan and the learning targets so developed should be reviewed annually.
In all cases, time for revision of the course was included in planning and this is commended. Revision has been ongoing for some time in sixth-year Biology and will take place after Easter for the third-year Science groups.
A very good level of preparation was undertaken for each lesson observed. Visual presentations were carefully considered in order to match the purpose of the lesson with the needs of the particular students in the class group. Worksheets in particular were well thought out, providing opportunities for students of all abilities to practise their learning. The quality of the resources used in all lessons demonstrated a strong adherence to the standards of attainment expected at both ordinary and higher level and this is commended. Materials produced by the science and biology support services are used by many of the teachers. Many of the worksheets and some laminated flash cards had been produced by teachers using the school’s ICT facilities and these were colourful, stimulating and professional. Materials for practical work and other resources were ready from the start of each lesson and this led to a seamless flow from activity to activity. Lesson preparation is highly commended.
Teaching and Learning
Class groupings for Science and Biology are relatively small, and very small for JCSP Science. This enables teachers to give much individual attention to their students and supports teachers in the challenge of meeting the needs of all abilities. A particularly wide range of abilities was evident in all lessons with some students aiming for ‘A’ at higher level and some students who aspire to pass the ordinary level paper. In addition, JCSP students will not be taking the state examinations in Science. Teachers are experienced in dealing with a wide range of ability in their class groups and do differentiate their teaching strategies effectively. Overall, it was found that teachers set their expectations for students on an individual rather than a group basis, and in general it was found that these expectations were appropriately high. This is commended. However, in a very small number of cases teacher expectation was not appropriately high and this issue was discussed.
Very good teacher-student relationships were observed with students holding their teachers in high esteem and interacting with respect at all times. The students settled immediately in all lessons with books and copies ready on the desk. Teachers were at all times enthusiastic about their lessons. This is commended.
In all cases, highly interactive lessons were observed. The students were articulate and expressive during science and biology lessons. There was constant productive dialogue between student and teacher and this was facilitated by skilful questioning strategies through which teachers constantly challenged their students to make observations, to contribute opinions, to arrive at the correct answer collectively and especially to recap on what they had just learned. Such practices are commended and made for very enjoyable lessons. Heightened verbal interaction was combined with opportunities for students to practise their learning in writing. This mainly took the form of worksheets, the writing up of practical work and occasional short class tests. Teachers circulated at all times paying attention to the needs of all students. In these ways, student-centred lessons with the teacher as facilitator of learning, rather than teacher-led lessons, ensued and this is commended.
Clear and concise instruction was given at all times. Lessons were very well structured and well paced. The board was used to good effect to record student contributions throughout the lesson and to note key terminology, building a picture of the overall topic. It is suggested, however, that this board work be utilised for student note-taking at times. In a small number of cases, greater variety could be applied to the teaching and learning resources used, and the benefits of integrating some audiovisual and ICT resources into certain topics should be availed of.
Practical science was evident throughout all lessons and teachers encouraged their students to think scientifically. Excellent attention was paid to the scientific method during practical work and plenary class discussions held in preparation for the impending investigation. This was particularly evident in lessons where students were preparing to undertake the Coursework B component of the Science assessment. Fascination for the outcome of particular investigations was evident among students. Students demonstrated keen ability in identifying both the variables and the constants in any given investigation. Student practical skill attainment was observed to be very good. During practical work, the students worked safely and purposefully in their groups and communicated effectively.
For a small number of students absenteeism is high and it is reported that this is affecting achievement in Science and Biology. Teachers find that these students are progressing with their subject and with school but could be doing much better. It is important that this continue to be closely monitored by the school and that the school’s attendance strategies be rigorously administered.
The standard of attainment was found to vary according to individual student ability; all students were able to answer questions put to them to some degree and in accordance with their own ability. Some excellence was noted in the quality of response to difficult questions while some students struggled to reach the correct answer but could answer simpler questions. Students were observed to be achieving either according to or above their individual ability. This is commended. Student performance in the state examinations in Science and Biology is good.
Student copies contained very good work with neat presentation and very good spelling of key terminology. Some students keep folders of worksheets completed and it was evident that care was taken by students to ensure that they had answered all questions. This work was monitored by teachers with annotated formative feedback given on student homework. Coursework A and B laboratory records were well-maintained, well-presented and monitored by teachers.
Homework was assigned fairly regularly in some cases and more regularly in others. In all cases, homework was carefully noted by students in their journals. Written homework is most usually assigned, while study homework is set prior to a class test on a topic. Questions from past examination papers were often assigned to the sixth-year biology groups to help prepare them for the State Examinations.
The frequency of class tests also varied, with some groups allocated a test at the end of every topic. It is recommended that all class groups be given frequent class tests and that a policy on assessment be agreed among all science teachers and written into the science plan. This would bring greater consistency to assessment practices and ensure certain agreed standards are applied.
Credit is given to students for the completion of laboratory work as part of the overall grade in the formal school reports. This is good practice as it rewards students for skills demonstrated and also reflects the allocation of marks in the State Examinations Commission’s Science examinations.
Formal school-based examinations are held at Christmas and summer for students in first, second and fifth year. Third-year and sixth-year students sit ‘mock’ examinations in February. Parents receive school reports following these examinations. A parent-teacher meeting is held annually for first, second and fifth years and twice annually for third and sixth years. Profiling of JCSP students for progress takes place in Science.
Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation of Science and Biology:
· Senior management firmly supports and provides very well for the science subjects.
· Science is a core subject for all students in junior cycle including JCSP students.
· Thorough preparation of resource materials that matched the purpose of the lesson with the learning needs of all students took place in advance of each lesson.
· Very good teacher-student relationships were observed with students holding their teachers in high esteem and interacting with respect at all times.
· Lessons were student-centred with the teacher as facilitator of learning.
· Teaching and learning was interactive with teachers constantly challenging their students to make observations and to answer questions on what they had just learned.
· Students are gaining a practical experience of Science and Biology and the attention to the scientific method was very good.
· Students were observed to be achieving either according to or above their individual ability.
· All recommendations made in a previous inspection report in the sciences during 2003 were implemented.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The school is encouraged to utilise the SDPI subject plan template for further development and to broaden the scope of the science plan.
· A specific plan for JCSP Science should be developed. The learning targets developed by the school for JCSP Science should be clearly documented. Both the plan and the learning targets developed
should be reviewed annually.
· Science and biology teachers should pool individual teaching and learning resources on a topic-by-topic basis so as to enhance the set of available resources for all.
· Frequent class tests should be administered with all class groups and a policy on assessment should be agreed among all science teachers and written into the science plan.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Science and Biology and with the principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published December 2008