An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Biology
St Fanahanís College
Mitchelstown, County Cork
Roll number: 71040M
Date of inspection: 22 January 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and biology
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Fanahanís College. 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 these 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí 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.
Junior Science is a core subject for students in the school. The time allocation to the subject in first year is currently four single lessons weekly. In second year this is changed to a weekly allocation of two double and two single lessons. Third-year students currently have four single lessons weekly. The overall time allocation follows what is recommended in curriculum guidelines. However, the absence of double lessons in both first and third years could affect the carrying out of the practical elements of the course. Management stated that this current arrangement is not permanent and is modified to meet the needs of the student cohort. In addition, it was stated that this allows greater contact with the students throughout the week and, with lesson times currently of 45 minutes' duration, the carrying out of practical activities can be achieved. A regular review of this current arrangement is recommended to ensure that teachers and students are able to complete the practical components as required by the syllabus.
In senior cycle students can study the Leaving Certificate Applied programme (LCA) or the traditional Leaving Certificate, with the option of taking the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) as part of their studies. LCA students have the option of taking the science elective. A weekly allocation of one single lesson in each year of study is currently assigned to this subject. Leaving Certificate students can study Biology and / or Physics as optional science subjects. Classes are arranged on a mixed-ability basis. This academic year has students studying Physics only in year two of the Leaving Certificate programme. Biology is being studied in both year one and two of Leaving Certificate. The time allocation for all of these science subjects is currently two double lessons and three single lessons in both years one and two of Leaving Certificate. This allocation is within curriculum guidelines. All science classes occur within the science facilities, which is good practice.
The science facilities comprise two laboratories with associated shared preparation area and chemical store. A demonstration room is also available. Non-science classes do not occur in the laboratories, which is good practice. The demonstration room is not used exclusively for science.
The laboratories are all designated for the teaching of junior science, with materials and glassware accessible to students, which is good practice. The science team in the school currently comprises two members of staff. Both are involved in the delivery of junior science. Teacher allocation to classes is on a continuity basis from first to third year.
A range of posters was displayed on the walls of the laboratories. Some of this work was of student origin, which is to be commended and encouraged. The use of keyword charts should be considered, as they would aid student-learning processes. All material displayed should reflect work being completed in class and therefore aid and enhance the studentsí learning. The development of a science notice board could also be considered by the team.
To help with the delivery of science, the science team also have access to televisions, video resources, DVDs, CDs, data projectors, data logging equipment, the school library, computer room facilities and laptops. Some of these are permanent resources within the sciences, which is to be commended. Continued use and development of these is recommended.
A subject co-ordinator is appointed. The main role of the co-ordinator includes the management of the laboratories, upkeep of equipment and development of plans in relation to science. Both formal and informal meetings of the subject department are held and minutes recorded. No set budget is provided but management facilitates requests made by the co-ordinator. The continual development, and not just the maintenance, of resources should be an objective going forward.
The school has a health and safety statement. Teachers were consulted and submitted individual submissions in the preparation of this statement, which is good practice.† Management stated that the current statement is reviewed as the need arises, with the last review more than a year ago. Management could consider a more regular review period for this statement with the inclusion of a section relating to science in future drafts of this document. Safety equipment such as fire extinguishers, safety blankets and safety glasses were observed in the laboratories, which is good practice. The guidelines on safety: Safety in School Science and Safety in the School Laboratory published by the Department of Education and Science were also available.
Opportunities for continuing professional development in Science and previously in Biology and the physical sciences have been availed of by teachers and encouraged by management. The school has recently held a planning day in the area of special needs, which was co-ordinated through the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). In addition, the students are also benefiting from fieldtrips and visiting speakers to the school. The benefit of these experiences to the student must not be underestimated as a means of reinforcing and enhancing their learning. Such activities are to be commended and encouraged for all science students.
Common plans are present for all year groups, which is good practice. Plans are reviewed regularly and modified when and where appropriate for a class group. It is recommended that all modifications to a particular plan should be documented. In addition, the development of central tracking systems should be established. This would involve indicating work completed for each class group centrally in the science-planning file.
The development of resources and strategies to meet the needs of students will constantly require planning. The sharing of expertise among the staff, especially from other subject departments such as the special educational needs team, should be considered in the planning process. Other areas to be considered could be the range of resources required and used by the student, assessment methods, practical work, homework and the further integration of information and communication technology (ICT) in future planning.
Short-term planning was evident in the lessons observed. There was a coherent theme, with prior preparation of the materials and the apparatus required for each lesson. Other resources observed included the use of ICT, textbooks, the board and various types of handout material. Strategies for the retention of materials required for student learning should also be included in the planning process. In addition, ways to increase student participation within the lesson, when and where appropriate, should also be considered as part of the planning process.
In the main, lessons were planned and structured which provided continuity with the previous lesson. Records of work completed to date with each class were presented. The articulation of learning outcomes was only done in a minority of classes. Where observed, this provided a reference for the students and helped them take ownership of their learning, which is good practice and should be included in the planning process for the subjects.
Lessons observed began with the roll being taken. The topics being studied in the lessons observed were electricity, filtration and DNA profiling. Students sat at pre-assigned seats and work began promptly. There was evidence of a good rapport between the students and the teachers, with no discipline issues observed.
In some lessons homework was corrected. This was done orally in class with students invited to contribute their answers. The use of the board to highlight the right answers may be required in some instances to consolidate student learning. The assigning of homework occurred at the completion of all classes observed. Students were either given a worksheet for completion or assigned questions from their workbook. In the main, the homework assigned was designed to assist the students in learning and retaining the topic, which is good practice.
Some oral questioning was a component of all lessons observed. Recall-type questioning was the main form observed. Direct questioning to named students, instead of open questions to the whole class with chorus answering, should also be used more to ascertain studentsí learning. Students would benefit from more questioning throughout all lesson types. It would be important that all students should, as part of the lesson, be engaged in questioning to ensure successful understanding of the topic. Sufficient time and skilful probing may be required on occasion to elicit a response from a student. In addition, students should close all books before questioning to ensure that student learning is being ascertained. The use of more probing higher-order questioning is to be encouraged during all lesson types.
Lesson pace was generally appropriate to the material being delivered by the teachers. The varied use of different methodologies including the use of ICT, practical activities and demonstrations helped to enhance student engagement. At times good linkages were made with previous work completed, which aided student learning. Consolidation of previous learning should also be carried out before moving forward, to ensure student understanding. The teachers had clear aims and objectives for the lessons observed. Consideration should be given to communicating these to the students at the start of the lesson. It would be important to ensure that teacher delivery does not dominate the lesson, which could result in students becoming very passive in their learning. Methodologies to avoid this should be incorporated into all lesson types.
Visualisation for the students was aided through the use of ICT, the board, demonstrations and practical activities. It is suggested that subject-specific key words could also be put on the board during the lesson which will help the studentsí understanding of the material being delivered and help in the recording of studentsí notes on the learning completed. In addition, in some lessons worksheets and handouts were also used to focus student learning. Where these handouts and worksheets form the basis of recording information, strategies need to be adopted to ensure the retention of this material by the students for use in their learning. Reference to textbooks should only be used to supplement and reinforce the learning and teaching which had already been completed and recorded during the lesson.
Some practical activity occurred in all the observed lessons and comprised both mandatory and non-mandatory activities, which is to be commended. Students worked in groups of a maximum of three students during practical work. This involved the students setting up the equipment for themselves. Students were very engaged in their various practical activities. In some cases worksheets were provided for students to follow and also provided a focus for their work. While students were working, the teacher circulated giving assistance and answering questions when required, which is to be commended. This would also be an opportunity to ask the students questions and for their predictions, where applicable, on what they think might occur before completion of the tasks. They could then accept or reject their initial hypothesis when they finish the investigation. Good organisation allowed the activities to run smoothly. On completion of the activities students cleaned up, which is good practice. Students were then asked to share their results and conclusions under the direction and guidance of the teacher. This helped to consolidate the learning and contributed to the studentsí ability to make a record of their own investigative work. This is good practice and could also be adopted for example to summarise material delivered during a theory class.
The school has adopted a pro-forma laboratory copy for the students. The regular monitoring of student practical notebooks is also encouraged and could be incorporated into the scheme for assessment for all year groups. In addition, observation of student practical copies indicated the completion of a significant amount of practical activities, which is to be commended.
The school has both a formal homework policy and assessment policy, which is good practice. The teachers monitor the implementation of the homework policy on a daily basis. Informal assessment of studentsí learning is assessed daily. This is achieved through homework and oral questioning at the start of, and during, the lessons, as was evident in the lessons observed. Continuous assessment also occurs, with class tests administered by the teacher on completion of a unit of work or a topic. The teacher retains records of all tests completed. Formal student assessment occurs through tests at Christmas and summer. Examination classes also sit pre-examinations in the spring of their examination year. Formal reports are issued on completion of these assessments. Parent-teacher meetings are also held for all classes annually. The student journal, comments on homework and marks on homework are also used to inform parents of studentsí progress.
In addition, the team could consider awarding all students marks for their practical copies as part of their overall grade in the subject. This could have the effect of providing the students with further motivation for engagement with the practical elements of the course.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
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, November 2009