An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physics and Science
Terenure, Dublin 6W
Roll number: 76092K
Date of inspection: 5 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 15 December 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Presentation College, conducted as part of a whole school evaluation. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Physics and Science 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 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 taught to all first-year students in Presentation College. At the end of first year students choose their Junior Certificate subjects. Uptake of Science is low with over half of the current third-year cohort choosing not to study Science for the Junior Certificate. It is recommended that measures be put in place to encourage more students to choose Science. Consideration should be given to providing additional guidance on subject choice to parents and students highlighting the implications of not choosing Science for Junior Certificate. All Science classes are mixed ability.
Junior Certificate Science is taught separately by subject specialist teachers in each of the areas of Physics, Chemistry and Biology. For example, first-year classes have a double period in Biology and a single period in each of Physics and Chemistry. While this arrangement has the advantage of subject specialists teaching their area of expertise, it is in need of review. The current arrangement leads to a lack of continuity for students, to limited opportunities to link all aspects of Science into teaching and learning, and to difficulties with coordination of homework and assignments. It also results in inadequate opportunities for practical activities due to the lack of a double period for two elements of the Science course in any particular year. It is recommended that school management, in consultation with the Science teachers, re-evaluate this practice and revert to the arrangement where one teacher is responsible for teaching all aspects of Science to a particular class group.
The overall time allocation to Science is satisfactory. However, the timetabling arrangements for Science are not clear. For instance, two class groups in second year and third year have the same name. In addition, learning-support lessons are timetabled as Science lessons. It is recommended that the official college timetable be rectified to clearly differentiate between class groups and learning-support interventions. There are also problems with accessing a Science laboratory for double periods which should be resolved.
The guidance counsellors and subject specialist teachers advise students on the best and most suitable subject choices for the Leaving Certificate. Option blocks are formed in which the vast majority of students get their desired choice. Physics, Chemistry and Biology are currently offered at senior cycle. However, there is no current fifth-year Physics class. It is recommended that measures be taken to promote Physics in order to ensure a viable class group in each year of senior cycle. It is commendable that the college has continued to offer the subject and to create small class groups. There is one class group in Chemistry and two class groups in Biology in fifth and in sixth year. The time allocation to Physics, Chemistry and Biology is satisfactory.
There are four teachers in the Science department, three of whom teach Junior Certificate Science. They keep themselves updated and upskilled in the revised Science syllabus by attending the junior Science inservice programme. The active involvement of some teachers in national and international events to promote Physics and Science is highly commended.
There are two Science laboratories in the college, each with a spacious preparation/storage area. The completion of a recent health and safety audit by the VEC is commended. The college’s health and safety statement has been prioritised for review and it is recommended that this work be completed as soon as possible. The Science teachers should be consulted as part of the process. The laboratories have safety equipment including fire extinguishers and fire blankets. The gas system has been upgraded with the provision of a manual gas cut-off switch in each laboratory. However, there is no electrical cut-off switch. In the interests of health and safety it is recommended that chemicals and equipment be stored in an orderly fashion, that laboratory rules be clearly displayed, and that first-year students be required to sign a copy of the laboratory rules. It is recommended that laboratory health and safety issues continue to be addressed and that facilities and resources be upgraded as necessary.
There are three computers and datalogging equipment in the laboratories. The college has a data-projector available for laboratory use and it is commendable that some teachers bring in their own laptop computer for use with the projector. It is also commendable that Science teachers use resources such as CDs and DVDs to introduce and reinforce topics in Science. Datalogging is used in Physics. Internet access is not currently available. It is recommended that school management, in consultation with Science teachers, give consideration to enhancing ICT facilities in the Science laboratories so that ICT can be readily used as part of the teaching and learning process. In addition, school management should facilitate the Science teachers in accessing training in the use of ICT for teaching and learning.
Subject planning was initiated recently and Science teachers have met formally on two occasions over the year as part of the school development planning process. These meetings have an agreed agenda, brief minutes are taken and a report is sent to school management. In addition, teachers meet frequently on an informal basis. The meetings are convened by the Science co-ordinator, a position which is filled on an annual rotating basis. The agenda of recent meetings has included discussions on the upcoming subject inspection as part of whole school evaluation, resources, laboratory accommodation, teaching strategies and special needs. This common agreed planning is highly commended.
There is good long-term and short-term planning documentation in evidence. Each teacher has produced a yearly plan for junior cycle, Transition Year and senior cycle programmes. Many of these plans are very comprehensive with clearly laid out aims and objectives. Many include information on methodologies, resources, assessment policy, teaching strategies and special education needs. In addition the course content is clearly presented. It is recommended that this very good and commendable planning practice be extended across the Science department.
There is little scope for common curricular planning in junior cycle in light of the current arrangement for Junior Certificate Science. It is recommended that Science planning be extended to document existing Science policy and plan for the future of Science in the college. In this way issues such as the uptake of Science, Physics and other Science subjects at senior level could be addressed. Other issues worth addressing include timetabling of classes, access to the laboratories, materials and resources, health and safety, laboratory coordination and organisation, agreed learning outcomes and curricular provision.
The provision of two TY Science modules, one in Physics and Technology and the other in Biology and Chemistry is commended. A written programme for these modules is available. However, it is recommended that the content of the courses be reviewed in order to maintain a more even balance between the three Science subjects so that students can make more informed choices when choosing subjects for the Leaving Certificate. In addition, the teaching methodology in TY should be kept under review in order to ensure that the programme is delivered according to the principles of TY.
The senior Physics plan is a very comprehensive document and is to be commended. It includes clearly presented schemes of work for all levels, lists of resources, sample worksheets, tests and details of problem-solving skills taught to the TY groups. Student successes and projects entered in competitions are also outlined. The plan includes details of professional development such as inservice courses and international projects. In addition samples of students’ work are included.
There was generally good planning of the lessons observed. The advance preparation of practical equipment and worksheets is to be commended as it enhanced teaching and learning.
There was a wide range of abilities in the class groups observed. Teachers were sensitive to the needs of individual students together with the needs of the whole class. Students felt valued and were generally addressed by name. Participation in classroom activities was generally good. There was a good rapport and a strong atmosphere of learning in most lessons visited. Students responded positively when their correct response or good work was affirmed. Students were generally motivated to work to the best of their abilities. The work of the teachers in the support of all students is commended.
There was a clear structure to the lessons observed. In general, a wide variety of methodologies were used. There was an example where ICT was used effectively to present a topic. Its use aided students’ understanding of the material presented. Likewise there was good and effective use made of both the whiteboard and blackboard during the lessons observed. Circuits, formulas, units and diagrams were presented clearly and constant reference was made to this material to reinforce the content of the lessons. There was an example where the overhead projector was used effectively to present concepts at the beginning and to summarise at the end of a lesson. In some lessons, there was more scope to vary the methodologies used. It is recommended that worksheets be used more widely to reinforce the material taught in the lesson and to give students further opportunities to receive individual attention.
Questioning was used effectively in most lessons observed and was particularly useful when questions were addressed at individual students. Many questions were used as an aid to recall and to link the content of the lesson with previously taught material. There was a good emphasis on linking Science to students’ everyday experiences in some lessons observed by means of expert use of relevant questions. Students in turn asked many questions which often led to general class discussion on relevant topics.
Investigative practical work formed part of some lessons observed. Generally, there was a good investigative approach. Small groups collected and set up the apparatus and tidied up in an orderly fashion at the conclusion of the lessons. The use of a worksheet in some practical lessons would have acted as a focus and guide for students and as an aid to increased participation. It is very important that students work in a safe environment where accident risk is minimised. A greater emphasis on health and safety is needed in some lessons. It is recommended that safety spectacles be worn during all hazardous experiments, that schoolbags are stored during practical work so that they do not constitute a trip hazard, and that laboratory rules are given due attention.
Short teacher demonstrations, together with students carrying out certain activities enhanced many lessons. There was an example observed where students were being taught the concept of blood pressure. A student’s blood pressure was taken lying down and then sitting up. There was evidence that students clearly understood the concepts of systolic and diastolic blood pressure at the conclusion of the lesson. A worksheet consolidated the lesson content. There was another example observed where the lesson content dealt with density and pressure. The effects of the forces exerted on plastic cups was demonstrated effectively and then tried by students to improve their concepts of forces and surface areas. The work of the teachers is highly commended in this regard. Science was linked to many relevant everyday activities. For example, students were reminded of the relevance to industry of the material being taught. Teachers are commended in this regard.
Uptake of Science at higher-level is good. Formal examinations take place in spring and summer. Setting and marking of Junior Certificate Science tests in Physics, Chemistry and Biology is carried out by teachers individually and the results are combined to get an overall mark. In February the ‘mock’ examinations are taken by third year and sixth year students. Reports are sent to parents following each formal examination and based on continuous assessment marks in November. There is an annual parent-teacher meeting for each year group. In addition, on occasions teachers may request to meet individual parents.
Many informal class tests take place at the end of a topic or textbook chapter. Class questioning provides an ongoing means of assessment. Students were generally confident at answering questions on their work during the lessons observed.
Many practical notebooks were of a good standard. However, it was evident that some students need constant encouragement to maintain a notebook of high standard. It is recommended that the practical notebooks be annotated with useful comments for improvement and affirmation of work well done. It is important that there is a follow up process to ensure that corrections are completed. In addition, it is recommended that teachers give credit for practical work completed and recorded in school assessments. This would encourage better standards and would reflect the aims and objectives of the revised Junior Certificate Science syllabus. The incorporation of project work into practical activities, particularly so in first year and TY, is commended.
Teachers keep daily attendance records, notes on student behaviour and class test results. Individual teachers decide on the amount and frequency of homework. Prior to parent-teacher meetings, Junior Certificate Science teachers meet to share results and formulate an agreed report. Homework was assigned at the conclusion of many lessons observed. This often took the form of textbook assignments, completion of a worksheet or completion of an account of an experiment. A homework journal exists whereby teachers and parents can communicate regarding homework completed and absences although parents do not have to sign the journal on a regular basis.
Students are given the opportunity to pursue co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. They are encouraged to participate in many competitions and exhibitions including the BT Young Scientist and Technology Competition and the Institute of Physics Paperclips Competition. Many projects in the Young Scientist Competition have been highly commended by the judges. Students use household items to explain Physics’ principles in the Paperclips competition. Students have reached the national finals and have played an important role in promoting Physics. TY students are encouraged to participate in the Access Science programme in UCD and attend lectures during Science Week. The work of teachers in promoting these activities with students is highly commended.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
§ The commitment shown by the Physics and Science teachers in Presentation Community College is crucial in driving the development of these subjects in the college.
§ Science is currently taught as three separate elements. This has led to a lack of continuity for students and to difficulties in coordinating the delivery of the subject.
§ Good planning is shown in the development of subject planning meetings.
§ The lessons observed were in general well planned with a clear structure, delivered at a pace appropriate to the students and presented and designed to facilitate the active involvement of all pupils in learning.
§ Practical work was generally well organised with a clear emphasis on an investigative approach to learning. However, a greater emphasis on health and safety is needed in some lessons.
§ Ongoing assessment of students was carried out formally and informally.
§ Discipline was sensitively maintained and a good teacher-student rapport existed.
§ The college provides a caring and supportive learning environment.
§ There is good whole school support for Physics and Science as shown by: Science being offered to all first-year students, the Transition Year modules in Science and Physics and the fact that Chemistry and Biology are available to Leaving Certificate students.
§ Teachers are encouraged to and facilitated in attending inservice and other forms of continuous professional development.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following recommendations are made:
§ Measures should be put in place to encourage more students to choose Junior Certificate Science and to promote Physics in senior cycle.
§ School management, in consultation with the Science teachers, should re-evaluate the current arrangements for Junior Certificate Science and revert to the arrangement where one teacher is responsible for teaching all aspects of Science to a particular class group.
§ Laboratory health and safety issues should continue to be addressed and facilities and resources be upgraded as necessary. Review and updating of the college’s health and safety statement should be completed as soon as possible.
§ School management in consultation with Science teachers should give consideration to the enhancement of ICT facilities in the Science laboratories.
§ Science planning should document existing Science policy and plan for the future of Science in the college. Good documented planning practices should be extended across the Science department.
§ Worksheets should be used more widely to reinforce the material taught in lessons and as an aid to give students the opportunity to receive individual attention.
§ Practical notebooks should be annotated with useful comments for improvement and affirmation of work well done. Teachers should give credit for practical work completed and recorded in school assessments.
§ The official college timetable should be rectified to clearly differentiate between class groups and learning-support interventions.
§ The content and delivery of the Transition Year Science courses should be reviewed.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and with the teachers of Physics and Science at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.