An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Chemistry
Coláiste na Trócaire, Rathkeale
Roll number: 76061W
Date of inspection: 22 & 23 October 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Chemistry
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste na Trócaire as part of a whole school evaluation. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Chemistry 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 the teacher, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and the teacher’s 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.
Chemistry is an optional subject at senior cycle in this school. The uptake of Chemistry is generally low and this most likely arises from the fact that Science is also an optional subject at junior cycle in the school. Thus, the number of students taking Chemistry is related to the number choosing Science at junior cycle and where the number at junior cycle is a low proportion of the overall junior cycle cohort this has an impact at senior cycle. When the proportion of students taking Chemistry is compared with the proportion choosing Science the relative uptake levels are satisfactory. These matters were discussed with the school management during the evaluation. Following these discussions and in the context of the increasing need for scientific and technological awareness and understanding in everyday life it is recommended that the school seek to offer Science as a core subject at junior cycle. This should also support an increase in the number of students choosing Chemistry at senior cycle.
The total time allocation for Chemistry meets with the requirements of the syllabus. However, this year, an exceptional situation arose where fifth-year students do not have a double lesson period during the week. A double lesson period is recommended by the syllabus to facilitate students’ engagement in the specified mandatory experimental work and its inclusion in future timetabling arrangements for all chemistry classes is recommended.
The total time allocation for Science and the deployment of classes is satisfactory and meets with the recommendations of the syllabus in all but one instance where a first-year group has three weekly periods for Science. The recommended time allocation is 240 hours over the three years of junior cycle. This is equivalent to four class periods weekly for each of the three years of junior cycle. Thus, it is recommended that future timetabling arrangements ensure that all students receive the required time for Science.
The school has two science laboratories and they are in satisfactory condition, generally well maintained and appropriately resourced. They are print-rich, scientific learning spaces and this atmosphere is created by displays of students' work, scientific posters, and science resources. Good work has been done in organising the storage of equipment, chemicals and materials in the laboratories and the preparation room. A small amount of further work remains to be completed in labelling chemicals and creating a stock list that identifies the amounts of each chemical present. It is advised that this work be completed by the science staff as a priority.
There is good support by the school for the chemistry teacher's continuing professional development and the teacher has been facilitated in attending all relevant in-service education courses.
Students benefit from participation in a range of science-related extracurricular activities that are supported by the science staff. These activities include participation in the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, Science Week, lectures by visiting speakers and visits to science exhibitions and facilities. The good work done by the science staff in supporting students' engagement in these activities is to be commended.
The chemistry teacher works collaboratively as part of the science faculty at junior cycle and brings to bear significant expertise and experience as the school's senior-cycle chemistry teacher. At senior cycle, planning for Chemistry is undertaken on an individual basis. As each of the teachers in the science department have significant subject-matter and teaching expertise it would be beneficial if opportunities could be created to specifically support the formal sharing of this expertise. This might, in the first instance, be accomplished through team teaching and structured discussions on selected topics at subject department meetings.
Planning documentation relating to Leaving Certificate Chemistry and to the module of Chemistry in the Transition Year (TY) programme was examined. All of these plans were of a high quality. The documentation showed that TY Chemistry has a significant experimental focus while also developing students' research and scientific reporting skills. Good practice was noted where planning for a variety of assessment modes was included within the TY module. These modes included peer assessment, formal written assessment, assessment of students' practical skills and assessment of their attitudes and efforts.
Each lesson that was observed was characterised by a very high level of appropriate preparation. This was evident as all materials had been prepared in advance and were readily to hand. The teacher displayed a high level of subject-matter expertise during all lessons and dealt with all students' questions with ease.
A range of teaching methodologies was used well during lessons. It was noteworthy that the performance of practical work by students was an integral part of learning in all lessons. This approach to grounding students' learning in practical experiences is to be encouraged as it helped to make concrete the abstract concepts being studied. Practical work was undertaken safely and there was appropriate attention given to safety. While the students worked their teacher circulated among them, providing individual advice and guidance where needed.
The relationship between students and their teacher was positive during all lessons and it was evident from observation that there was good rapport and that the teacher showed a high level of care and concern for all students. Students were addressed by their first names, their questions and responses were dealt with affirmatively, and they were confident and comfortable in asking questions of their teacher. The affirmation of students' work, responses, and efforts was a notable feature of the lesson and it served to enhance the positive learning environment.
Observation of the students at work showed that they had generally high levels of laboratory skills and that they were engaged and involved in their learning. Interaction between the inspector and students revealed that they had good levels of knowledge and understanding of the topics under study. In addition, it was evident that the students had good levels of interest in Chemistry and positive attitudes to studying it.
Students' progress is assessed regularly and reports are sent home periodically. These practices are appropriate. There are satisfactory arrangements in place to support communication between the school and parents. These arrangements include the use of students' diaries, parent-teacher meetings, and contact between the school and parents as needs arise.
Samples of students' work were reviewed during the inspection. These showed that an appropriate amount of experimental work had been completed by each year group and that homework was a regular feature of the students' learning. Students' work was monitored periodically by their teacher and good practice was evident where formative comment-based feedback was provided by the teacher.
In general, students get informal feedback on the development of their practical skills from their teacher. They also benefit from monitoring of the write up of their experimental work. In building on these practices it is recommended that the chemistry department in coordination with the science department extend the range of assessment modes in use for all year groups to ensure that there is an element of formal assessment of students' experimental skills.
The science department has recently developed the practice of analysing the results obtained by students in the State examinations. This is to be commended as it will enable the teachers to identify areas of recurring difficulty and areas in which improvements in the delivery of science subjects may be achieved. Some trends regarding students' attainment at junior cycle were discussed during the evaluation and these trends should serve as the focus for future planning.
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 teacher of Chemistry and 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 April 2009