An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science
Kilmuckridge Vocational College
Kilmuckridge, County Wexford
Roll number: 71650Q
Date of inspection: 21 October 2008
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN SCIENCE
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Kilmuckridge Vocational College. 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.
Science is a core subject at Kilmuckridge Vocational College with three class groups in first year, and two in second and third year. All science classes are of mixed ability. Continuity in teaching is not always maintained and it is recommended that as far as is feasible, the same teacher is timetabled for a class group throughout junior cycle.
Subject teachers and the school guidance service play an active part in providing an insight for students into senior cycle subjects available. However, there is only informal consultation with parents regarding subject choice. Therefore, it is recommended, in line with best practice that parents are invited to an information evening where subject choice and its implications for third level are discussed. Currently, Biology is the only senior cycle science subject provided by the school with one class group currently studying the subject in fifth and sixth year. Physics was offered to students up to 2007 and was then discontinued from the curriculum of the school. Numbers in physics class groups fluctuated from three to eighteen in recent years. Students’ low academic achievement and the low uptake of higher level in this subject was a cause for concern. It is recommended that the school, having addressed these concerns, considers offering an additional senior science subject to students.
Time allocation to Science at junior cycle is in the main satisfactory. The provision to first years, however, is in the form of two double periods and this leads to lack of continuity and frequency of the subject over the week. It is therefore recommended that consideration is given to the timetabling of first year science classes with one double and two single class periods. Time allocation to senior Biology is satisfactory.
There are currently three teachers in the science department in the college. Teachers have availed of some in-service opportunities including an in-house in-service course related to Junior Certificate science syllabus convened in the school by the Junior Science Support Service. It is recommended that the science department actively pursues further in-service opportunities with the support of school management.
The school has one modern laboratory which forms part of the school’s new extension and it has considerable potential to enhance science provision in the school. The laboratories are maintained to a high standard with equipment stored in an orderly manner. This is commended. In addition, the laboratories have on display many relevant models, posters, charts and students’ work was also displayed. The laboratory has a preparation and storage room with a separate chemical store. Access to the laboratory for practical lessons should be improved with the formulation of a laboratory timetable.
The school’s health and safety statement was drawn up in consultation with science teachers. However, it is in need of urgent review in light of new school science facilities and it is recommended that this be done at the school’s earliest convenience. Safety equipment was in evidence in each laboratory and good safety practices were in operation. Students are provided with a list of laboratory rules and they are encouraged to incorporate safety procedures into their work practices. This is commended. It is recommended that chemicals be stored in line with best practice and Department guidelines.
Information and communication technology (ICT) facilities have been considerably enhanced with two computer rooms and computers, data-projector, interactive whiteboard and broadband facilities in the science laboratory. Teachers are encouraged to pursue further in-service training in the use of ICT in teaching and learning in science education so that maximum benefit can be gained from ICT equipment in the classroom. Reference should be made to the website of the Second Level Support Service, slss.ie and the website of the National Council for Technology in Education, ncte.ie.
Students are encouraged to partake in some co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. These include ecology trips, visits to museums and Dublin Zoo and industrial visits related to subjects and programmes. However, increased awareness of competitions and events may encourage further student participation and raise the profile of Science in the school. Therefore, it is recommended that science activities and events be promoted and students’ awareness of such activities be enhanced by means of a science notice board.
Planning meetings are convened to collaborate on issues in common in the science department. It is recommended that the role of the coordinator of Science should be agreed collaboratively and documented in the science plan. This role should rotate between members of the science department. Possible duties should include effectively driving of subject planning by liaising with senior management, promoting best practice in science education, encouraging student participation in extra-curricular activities, encouraging uptake of senior science subjects and formulating an analysis of examination results and appropriate uptake of levels, particularly of higher level. A collaborative approach with the guidance department is encouraged regarding uptake of senior Science and promotion of possible careers in Science.
A collaborative science plan has been drawn up. It addresses organisational issues, special needs, resources and health and safety. It is recommended that broader issues relating to Science at both junior and senior cycle be addressed including those mentioned above in an effort to boost student achievement and to encourage greater uptake of science subjects at senior cycle. It is important that this plan be evaluated and updated each year. A policy regarding students requesting to change subject level should be incorporated into the plan. A collaborative scheme of work has been drawn up. However, this work should be expanded so that each topic is related to syllabus learning outcomes and methodologies, in addition resources and assessment criteria should be detailed for each section of the course. An electronic record of the scheme of work would enable updates to be easily added. There should be inclusion of specific statements and targets for Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) students in overall science planning.
Effective planning was in evidence in advance of lessons observed. Practical and ICT equipment were set up in advance and were ready to use. The content of lessons was generally well planned. Good lesson planning led to the successful learning outcomes observed being achieved in some lessons.
The atmosphere for learning was good in all lessons. Students were affirmed, received individual support when needed and generally worked with confidence on the tasks assigned. This is commended. There was evidence that students’ interest was maintained and that the learning experience was enjoyed in some lessons. Lesson objectives were set out at the start of some lessons. It is recommended that this practice be extended across all lessons and that a plenary session is used to summarise the learning experience at the conclusion of lessons.
ICT was used effectively in one lesson visited and was well integrated in the lesson. A presentation on ecology was used in conjunction with a student worksheet to teach key terms on this topic. JCSP students were well prepared for a planned field trip in ecology. There was further scope for the use of ICT into some lessons observed. It is recommended that use of the data-projector, internet and CD resources be introduced at appropriate intervals in some lessons. The interactive whiteboard could also be used as an effective aid to student learning.
The majority of students played an active part in lessons. However, there is scope for higher levels of participation of some students. Methodologies and classroom management techniques should be drawn up to improve this situation. In some cases, the organisation of students during classroom demonstrations should be improved so that all students have the opportunity to actively take part in the work in hand. In one lesson, the implementation of a student seating plan so that desks are filled from the top of the classroom would have improved student participation levels.
Students worked collaboratively during practical investigations. Demonstrations interspersed with student activities formed part of some lessons. During a lesson on the digestive system, a model of a human torso and paper models of the intestines were used effectively to teach this topic, while the board was used to consolidate the learning experience with student input to tables of parts and functions. Students demonstrated a good knowledge of this topic in a worksheet completed at the conclusion of the lesson.
While challenges were set for some students in most lessons, there was a clear need to challenge students sufficiently in others. It is of the utmost importance that students who are being prepared for certificate examinations are enabled to reach their potential by raising expectations of achievement and the level of that achievement. Therefore, it is recommended that measures are developed to support students sufficiently in this task. In addition, it is important that a discovery-led approach to learning is maintained in the teaching of the junior science syllabus and it is recommended that this approach be adopted across the science department.
There was effective use of questioning in some lessons observed. Questioning was used as an ongoing learning strategy. Further use of questioning focused at individuals may be an effective strategy at increasing participation when necessary and at setting challenging tasks for students. Students generally exhibited good confidence in answering questions on their work during the lessons observed.
The uptake of higher level for Science in the Junior Certificate is poor. While student achievement in the Junior Certificate Science examination at ordinary level is satisfactory, the low percentage of students receiving ABC grades at higher level in recent years is a cause for concern.
Journals examined in the course of the evaluation were found in the main to be up to date and used effectively. Homework was assigned at the conclusion of some lessons observed. Non-examination classes sit formal examinations at Christmas and summer. In addition to Christmas exams, third and sixth-year students sit pre-certificate examinations in the second term. Common testing is now the norm for summer examinations in first year and second year. A parent-teacher meeting is held annually for each year group. Reports are sent to parents following each formal examination.
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.
Records of practical investigations are generally of poor standard. In an effort to improve this situation, a portion of the marks of term examinations should be allocated to the completion of the student record of practical work. While there is some annotation of notebooks, teachers should follow up on this activity to ensure that students consistently maintain notebooks of high quality.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Science is a core subject at Kilmuckridge Vocational College.
· The school has one modern laboratory which forms part of the school’s new extension and it will considerably enhance science provision in the school.
The laboratories are maintained to a high standard.
· ICT facilities have been considerably enhanced with two computer rooms and computers, data-projector, interactive whiteboard and broadband facilities in the science laboratory.
· Planning meetings are convened to collaborate on issues in common in the science department.
· The atmosphere for learning was good in all lessons. Students were affirmed, received individual support when needed and generally worked with confidence
on the tasks assigned. There was evidence that students’ interest was maintained and that the learning experience was enjoyed in some lessons.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The school should consider offering an additional senior science subject to students.
· The science department should actively pursue further in-service opportunities, including those in ICT, with the support of school management.
· The role of science coordinator should be agreed collaboratively and documented in the science plan.
· Broad issues relating to Science at both junior and senior cycle should be addressed in the science plan, in an effort to boost student achievement and to encourage
greater uptake of science subjects at senior cycle. A policy regarding a student request to change subject level should be incorporated into the plan.
· The scheme of work should be expanded so that each topic is related to syllabus learning outcomes and methodologies, resources and assessment criteria
should be detailed for each section of the course.
· Measures should be put in place to sufficiently challenge students in some lessons. A discovery-led approach to learning should be maintained in the teaching of the junior science syllabus.
· Methodologies and classroom management techniques should be drawn up to improve student levels of participation in lessons. Further use of questioning
focused at individuals may be an effective strategy at increasing participation when necessary and at setting challenging tasks for students.
· Teachers should follow up on the monitoring of practical notebooks to ensure that students consistently maintain notebooks of high quality.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Science, together with the principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published October 2009