An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood)
†Pobalscoil …anna Blakestown Community School
Blanchardstown, Dublin 15
Roll number: 91316Q
Date of inspection : 23 September 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood)
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Pobalscoil …anna, Blakestown Community School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Construction Studies (CS) and Materials Technology (Wood) (MTW) 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 teacher, examined studentsí work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teacherís written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and the subject teacher.
Pobalscoil …anna, Blakestown Community School provides a broad second-level education for its students. In addition to CS and MTW, the focus subjects of this report, the technologies included in the curriculum of the school are Metalwork and Technical Graphics in junior cycle and Engineering in senior cycle. The school is commended for this provision of technology subjects.
In-career development in the technologies is facilitated by management through support of the teachersí participation in the programme provided through T4, the Technology Subjects Support Service. This facilitation is commended. It is urged that teachers continue to be supported as they focus especially on the development of their computer-aided design (CAD) skills in preparation for the introduction of the Solid Works CAD package to all students of the technologies, including students of MTW and CS.
In general, the time allocated for teaching MTW and CS is appropriate. Two double-period lessons are allocated for MTW and two double-period and one single-period lessons are allocated for CS. Two double-period lessons are allocated for the Graphics and Construction Studies (GCS) course in Leaving Certificate Applied. However, one class each in first year and third year are allocated just one double-period lesson per week for MTW. These classes are timetabled for additional lessons in other areas of the curriculum to address their educational needs. It is reported that these classes will not be sitting MTW in the Junior Certificate examination. It is recommended that the MTW time allocation for these classes be equal to that provided for their peers in the other junior cycle classes. Where there is particular concern regarding the provision of extra learning support in the areas of literacy and numeracy for individual students within a class, it is urged that the possibility of achieving this within MTW lessons be explored. In particular, the adoption of team teaching within MTW lessons might be of benefit. This approach would best be explored collaboratively by the MTW and learning-support teachers within the context of school development planning. It is recommended, in general, that all students studying MTW in junior cycle sit the Junior Certificate examination in the subject.
While MTW is not being studied in second year and CS is not being studied in sixth year at present, appreciable numbers of students in first year and fifth year have chosen these subjects and are studying them within their subject options. It is envisaged that MTW and CS will continue to be offered to all students entering junior cycle and senior cycle respectively and it is expected in future that the subjects will be taught in each year cohort, as good practice would indicate they should.
The school provides resources, including class materials, tools and equipment as requested by the subject department. The appropriate requisition form is presented to the school office for purchase and it is reported that the required items are invariably provided. The board of management and senior in-school management are commended for this provision of resources.††
The funding provided by the Department of Education and Science (DES) to ensure adequate provision for health and safety in MTW and CS has been spent appropriately. New woodworking machines bearing the CE mark are installed and were about to be commissioned at the time of the inspection.
Students in junior cycle are given the option of studying MTW when they enrol, prior to entry. To support their decision, students in sixth class in primary school are given a tour of the school that includes the woodwork room. The teacher of MTW talks to the prospective students about the nature of the subject and what they should expect if they choose to study it. Providing them with experience of the subjects before choosing could further enhance the quality of support for studentsí decision-making regarding optional subjects. It is urged that the possibility of developing such opportunities for students, perhaps in the form of a taster programme, be investigated.†††
Subject planning includes collaboration between the teachers of all the technologies, particularly when facilitated through planning meetings scheduled centrally for specific purposes such as choosing suitable textbooks and deciding on question papers for mock examinations. This collaboration is commended. The rotation of the role of subject co-ordinator of the technologies, perhaps on an annual basis, is recommended, taking due account of the relative experience of the teachers involved when beginning the first rotation. The technologies, the school and the subject teachers will benefit from such sharing of the experience of subject co-ordination and continuity in subject planning in the technologies will be strengthened as a result. The outcomes of subject planning meetings are recorded and the records are maintained appropriately.†
Planning in the MTW, CS and GCS subject department has resulted in documented subject plans and programmes of work for each of the subjects. The progress made in this documentation of the subjects is commended. The planning is in line with the requirements of the syllabuses. It is urged, as a next step in the further development of the subject plans, that the various teaching methodologies and approaches already mentioned in them be linked to specific content or lessons. Collaborative planning by the teachers of all the technologies, recommended earlier, would present opportunities for further exploration and sharing of successful teaching approaches from the teachersí own experiences. Particular consideration should be given to the most effective ways of providing for differentiated approaches and group work in meeting the needs of students in the mixed-ability setting of the technologies classes. It is also urged that subject planning further expand its consideration of literacy and numeracy support within MTW, GCS and CS. The display of subject-relevant materials, such as keyword lists created as new terminology is encountered, within the woodwork room should be further increased,. It may be desirable to get the students to produce such lists on large sheets which can then be displayed to act as a prompt for students and to reinforce their learning.
If it is found feasible to provide first-year students with a taster programme of the optional subjects as suggested earlier, collaborative planning for the programmes of work to be followed in Technical Graphics and Metalwork as well as MTW has the potential to minimise repetition and so to make the best use of the time allocated to the taster programme, regardless of the subject choices which an individual student makes subsequently.
In keeping with their being offered in optional subject groupings, MTW classes are banded. Both MTW and CS in the school are taught for the most part in a mixed-ability setting. Classes usually include students taking these subjects at both ordinary and higher levels in state examinations. Students choose the level at which they sit the examinations in consultation with their teacher and encouragement is given for them to sit at the level appropriate to their potential, in line with effective practice.††
The information and communications technology (ICT) facilities available for the teaching of the technologies include three computer rooms. These facilities were being extended at the time of the inspection by the installation of six computers in the Technical Graphics room, supplied by the Department of Education and Science with specific CAD software pre-installed. It is recommended that arrangements be made to facilitate the use of these computers to introduce all students of the technology subjects, including MTW and CS, to the use of Solid Works. It is urged that the introduction to CAD be linked to the studentsí design work, at a level appropriate to the studentsí abilities and knowledge of the subjects.
The provision made for health and safety requirements in the woodwork room are included in the subject plans. It is recommended that The Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post-primary Schools (State Claims Agency, DES, 2005) be consulted in detail on health and safety matters when the subject plan is being reviewed. It is further recommended that the relevant section of the plan be appended to the schoolís health and safety statement. Newly installed woodwork machines were due for final commissioning at the time of the inspection. It is recommended, as part of this commissioning, that safe operational areas be appropriately demarcated and that information be prominently displayed adjacent to these safe operational areas to reinforce the studentsí awareness. It is also recommended that the display of standard warning signboards and instructional signboards adjacent to machines used by students be increased. The instructional signboards should present the procedures and precautions for safe use of the particular machine in order to strengthen studentsí awareness of these. The safety rules for the woodwork room should be similarly prominently displayed where most visible to the students.††
In each of the lessons observed in the course of the subject inspection, the purpose was made clear from the outset and the lesson was well structured. Continuity was assured by means of careful introductions at the beginning of the lessons and reflection at the conclusion on what had been achieved with reference to what would be done in the next lesson. Very effective use was made of teacher demonstration of practical woodwork skills with a commendable emphasis on traditional practice in marking out and working the material. Students were made fully aware of the importance of adopting a systematic approach and of accuracy in marking and removal of waste. This approach is commended as is the practice observed of having students work from orthographic drawings that they themselves had prepared previously. It is advised, as it becomes appropriate, that the work being undertaken by students be differentiated to suit their individual abilities. It is also recommended, from the earliest stages of studying MTW, that elements of student design be included in the projects being undertaken. Opportunities for students to begin to develop their design skills are best introduced by providing flexibility in project design appropriate to the ability and experience levels of the students.†
The classroom was well managed with clear expectations of students regarding their behavior, movement and working location within the woodwork room. Students readily accepted discipline that was intrinsic to them and the learning environment. Correction was rarely needed but when required it was sensitive, measured and accepted by the student. Clear and practised classroom routines added to the orderly manner in which the lessons proceeded with smooth transitions from stage to stage.†
The atmosphere in the lessons observed was at all times pleasant and conducive to learning. Mutual respect and rapport was clear between teacher and students and between the students themselves. Students were secure and relaxed and remained focused on the work in hand.
In general students showed a good developing knowledge and understanding of the subject matter of the lessons. This was obvious when they were questioned in the course of the lessons and by the inspector. In a small number of instances, in a CS drawing class, individual students continued to have difficulty in understanding the section being drawn. It is recommended that a broader range of teaching resources be used to further enhance the support provided for studentsí understanding in such circumstances. Such resources could include scale models and use should be made of available digital resources including three-dimensional CAD models. It is recommended that the use of such resources be facilitated by the provision of a data projector and laptop computer when resources permit.
Students were fully engaged and displayed enthusiasm and curiosity regarding the work being presented. Their skills and understanding of the subjects were generally appropriate to their age and ability and a good standard of learning was being achieved in the lessons.†
There is a school assessment policy that is followed in MTW and CS. Examinations are held at Christmas and in summer and classes sitting state examinations undertake mock examinations in preparation for these. In addition to these formal examinations, the work of MTW and CS students is assessed on a continuous basis by their teacher. It is urged, particularly in the case of project assessment in MTW, that equal weighting be given to annotated design sketches and practical work and, where possible, that these be assessed before realisation of the project. Such assessments should be aggregated with Christmas and summer marks.
In each of the lessons observed the teacher monitored the studentsí work with care and attention and affirmed their progress wherever possible. The students often contributed their own self-assessment of the work, creating valuable opportunities for learning. This is a very worthwhile use of informal assessment. Questioning was used to good effect throughout the lessons as a means of assessment and of reinforcement of learning.
Records of student attendance, progress and attainment were carefully and effectively kept in the standard teachersí diary used widely in the school. These records formed the basis for reporting to parents at the parent-teacher meetings. Parents are also informed of studentsí progress by means of formal examination reports and through notes in the studentsí journals as the need arises. There is good provision for contact with parents relating to studentsí progress.†
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 Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood) and 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