An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies
Millstreet Community School
Millstreet, County Cork
Roll number: 91390F
Date of inspection: 24 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Millstreet Community School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Materials Technology (Wood) (MTW) and Construction Studies 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, deputy principal and subject teacher.
Millstreet Community School has provided a broad education for students from the town and its surroundings for over thirty years. The curriculum offered includes a broad range of technology subjects which encompasses Metalwork, Engineering, Technical Graphics and Technical Drawing as well as MTW and Construction Studies, the particular focus of this subject inspection.
The teacher of MTW and Construction Studies engages in subject development meetings with the other teachers of the technologies in the school and the teacher of Art. Management is commended for providing such opportunities for collaborative planning in subjects which share common areas of the curriculum, in particular when lone teachers of particular subjects are involved.
Continuing professional development has been availed of, to the benefit of the subject department, in areas such as safety, information technology and for the introduction of revised syllabuses in the past. The provision of targeted courses in preparation for the new senior cycle syllabuses in the technologies is eagerly anticipated by the teachers of the technologies in the school, including the MTW and Construction Studies teacher.
It is commended that all students in first year are provided with experience of each subject in the junior-cycle curriculum of the school. However, while this arrangement supports students choosing subjects in junior cycle, as a consequence MTW is allocated just one double-period lesson per week for a half-year module. While students in first year are making good progress, this time allocation makes it very difficult for students to benefit to an acceptable extent from the study of the syllabus. Management is urged to increase the allocation of time for MTW in first year to a minimum of one double period for the full year. The teachers of all the technologies are urged, where not already done, to devise a joint approach and to collaborate on a cross-curricular plan for MTW, Metalwork and Technical Graphics in first year in order to ameliorate the impact of reduced time allocation to each subject. The allocation of four periods per week in the remaining junior cycle years is adequate to meet the requirements of the syllabus in those years. In Transition Year, four class periods per week are allocated and in each of the Leaving Certificate years five class periods are allocated. In both cases this allocation provides for the effective teaching of the syllabus. In all cases, classes are timetabled for at least one double-period lesson each week in MTW or Construction Studies and this good practice supports the completion of practical work. The periods are, in each case, well distributed across the week.
While there is no formal budget for the purchase of the materials and equipment required for the teaching of MTW and Construction Studies, it was reported in the course of the inspection that there is never a problem in this regard and school management and the board of management are affirmed for this timely provision as required for the effective teaching of the subjects.
There is one wood workshop in the school with limited storage space attached. This workshop has benefited from being extended by about half its original floor area and now provides adequate space for full classes of Construction Studies as well as MTW. Due to the popularity of the subjects, it is common for classes at both levels to fill the twenty-four workplaces available in the workshop.
It is commended that the workshop was neat, tidy and well organised at the time of the inspection. Tools and equipment were well maintained and readily available to the students. There was ample storage for tools, materials and studentsí work in presses within the workshop and a bright, welcoming environment was maintained in which to learn.
The schoolís existing health and safety statement has been in place for six years. Currently the statement is in the process of being reviewed. A draft, drawn up in consultation with an outside facilitator, is being considered by staff following which it will be submitted to the board of management. The involvement of the school community in the review indicates good practice.
While the installation of dust extraction facilities in the workshop has reached planning stage, progress in this regard has been slow. It is recommended that priority be given to ensuring that the necessary steps are taken to bring work in relation to dust extraction to completion as soon as possible. The Building Unit of the Department of Education and Science should be contacted to clarify how best to expedite the work.
There are two computer rooms in the school, access to which by MTW and Construction Studies classes is available on request and this is commended.
It is recommended that a suitable room be sought for use in the teaching of theory, drawing and Computer-Aided Design (CAD) to students of all the technology subjects. The development of such a room would best be undertaken in consultation with all the teachers of the technologies, paying particular attention to the implications of syllabus change in senior cycle. The development should be in line with the advice of the Technology Subjects Support Service, t4. The provision of an appropriate data projector and other teaching technology in such a room could be considered together with the development of resources for the introduction of the new technology-subjects syllabuses.
The arrangements for student choice of subject in junior cycle are generally predicated on the preferences expressed by students. These preferences are supported by the studentsí experience of a module of each option subject in first year. Further support is provided directly to students and their parents through the guidance and tutorial system and by subject teachers. Towards the end of first year, students pick subjects from the full range of the schoolís junior cycle curriculum. On the basis of this survey of student preference, subject option bands are designed to satisfy the greatest number, within staffing and timetabling restraints. A similar process is followed for senior cycle with students who undertake the schoolís optional Transition Year benefiting from experience of a wide range of subjects to support their choice. School management is commended for the openness of the schoolís arrangements for student subject choice.
The openness of subject choice provides equal opportunities for students to study technology subjects without reference to gender. While the proportion of female students choosing to study MTW and Construction Studies remains low, there may be grounds for optimism that this is gradually improving. The school is encouraged to continue to support students in choosing to make less traditional subject choices.
There is a co-ordinator of the technologies subjects department and meetings are held to discuss areas of common interest. The teachers of the technologies are encouraged to continue with such collaborative planning and also to expand consideration of the transferable strategies and methodologies found to be most effective in the teaching of their individual subjects. Such consideration has particular potential in the context of developing successful approaches to new and expanded areas of forthcoming revised syllabuses for the technologies. It is envisaged that monitoring, self-review and evaluation of subject development planning within the technologies will be a regular feature of subject area meetings and the teachers concerned are encouraged to take full advantage of the opportunities for further improvement that will be provided in this way.
As school development planning has advanced, there has been related development in subject department planning in MTW and Construction Studies. There is an awareness and energy in the subject department as it faces the imminent exciting changes in the teaching of the technology subjects and collaborative planning is taking place in this context. In the course of the inspection, it was clear from a review of documentation and class visits that planning for programmes of work and individual lessons is solid and in line with the requirements of the curriculum.
Students choose to study MTW and Construction Studies at the level appropriate to their needs. This, done in consultation with teacher and parents, results in students studying predominantly at higher level. The special educational needs of students are catered for within MTW and construction studies classes with affirmation and encouragement. Student project work is carefully planned and differentiated to suit a studentís ability and to make success achievable by all. Commendably, students are kept involved in lessons by means of carefully graded questioning and encouragement for all to contribute.
Students of MTW and Construction Studies use the school computer rooms for word processing of design folios from time to time, usually by arrangement with their computer teacher, during computer class. This cross-curricular collaboration is commendable, and it is encouraged that it continues. However, the teaching teams in MTW and Construction Studies, and in the technologies in general, are urged to take full advantage of opportunities to use the computer rooms to introduce parametric modelling computer aided design (CAD) to their students at all levels, particularly in the context of forthcoming syllabus changes. It is recommended that the CAD software package be installed in the computer rooms as soon as it becomes available and that access be arranged for lessons during MTW and Construction Studies time to allow students to use it in their project design work following a few introductory lessons.
It is recommended that the three teachers of technology subjects in the school meet to discuss and plan the best approach to the installation and use of the computer hardware and software supplied as a result of forthcoming syllabus change in senior cycle technology subjects. The teachers are encouraged to seek the best advice in this regard through t4 at www.t4.ie.
Appropriate care was taken to ensure that a safe working environment was maintained in the workshop. While safety signage indicating the use of personal protection equipment was in evidence, it is suggested, in the context of educating students on the importance of environmental health and safety, that appropriate, standard, colour-coded signs be displayed adjacent to each woodworking machine together with printed notices listing the specific procedures to be followed for the safe use of the particular machine. It is recommended that the demarcation and use of safe operational areas be extended to all machines and that signs are displayed to indicate the purpose of the safe operational areas and the implications of observing them for users of the workshop. It is also recommended that rules for student behaviour specifically within the workshop be clearly displayed. The Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post-primary Schools (State Claims Agency, Department of Education and Science, 2005), available on www.education.ie, should be consulted in detail regarding all issues relating to health and safety within the workshop.
Teacher demonstration was very effective in the practical lessons visited. There was commendable emphasis placed on the development of skills and students were affirmed, helped and encouraged by sensitive, effective interventions by the teacher as they completed their work in the course of the lessons. It is commended that the process of student design was appropriately at the centre of the work being undertaken. While first-year students were engaged in marking out and making the housing joint, this was set in context as preparation for designing and making a photograph frame in subsequent lessons. Second-year students had completed the design of a paper-towel holder to the stage of making models in card. They benefited from their teacherĎs demonstration of the marking out of the double mortise and tenon joint which they adapted to the completion of their individual projects. The quality of demonstration of woodworking skills, appropriately balanced with the centrality of student design work, is commended.
The teaching of theory observed was very effective. The overhead projector was used with prepared sketches and notes to inform a discussion on insulation in buildings in one construction studies lesson visited. Skilled questioning led the students to provide some detail on instances of insulation in buildings based on their previous knowledge of various standard sections. The teacher added to this knowledge and displayed samples of the various insulation materials discussed, adding significantly to the understanding of the class. To further improve the learning of the students it is suggested, where appropriate, that teaching strategies are adopted that engage them more actively in exploring the material being taught. The use of a broad range of more active teaching methodologies has great potential to maximise student interest and learning. Strategies might include students working in pairs or small groups and involve them in cooperative research into a defined aspect of the subject of a lesson, perhaps guided by prompt material prepared by the teacher. Following their research, students could report back to their peers and in turn benefit from the research of others presented in a similar way. In general it is urged that opportunities are identified to introduce a broader range of methodologies to engage students more actively in learning, specifically in the study of theory, making more use of strategies such as paired and group work and student research.
In each of the classes visited, the purpose was clearly stated at the outset of the lesson which then progressed in a coherent manner to a natural conclusion. Lessons were suitably paced and displayed continuity with those that went before.
In the course of the inspection, the teaching space was well managed, providing a calm, well ordered learning environment. The atmosphere in the classes visited was affirming, positive and sensitive to the needs of the students, who worked with enthusiasm in an environment of respect and intrinsic discipline. The atmosphere was at all times conducive to learning. Students displayed knowledge and understanding of the material being covered when questioned. In the case of students engaged in design work, they showed creativity and understanding in the development of their individual projects.
The display of subject-related materials within the workshop, which helped to make the learning environment more attractive and stimulating, is commended and it is urged that this be extended to the display of student-produced work such as sketches, drawings and posters.
In general, students worked purposefully and remained engaged in the activities of the class. They communicated effectively about their work and their levels of knowledge and competence were evident of effective learning.
School-based examinations are held in Millstreet Community School at both mid-terms, in autumn and spring, and at the end of the school year, in summer. Pre-examinations for third-year and sixth-year students are held at the spring mid-term. In addition to these formal assessments, studentsí achievement in MTW and Construction Studies is assessed on the completion of each exercise or project. The marks achieved in these assessments are carefully recorded and their average is aggregated with the studentís examination mark. The use of such continuous assessment provides students with regular feedback on their progress and is consistent with the use of course work assessment in state examinations in both subjects. To further improve this good practice, it is advised, as part of subject department planning and development, that the teachers of the technology subjects consider bringing a greater level of consistency and transparency to the arrangements for continuous assessment in the technology group of subjects. Agreeing in advance on the weighting of assessment marks to be aggregated with examination marks and providing students with a clear indication of their expected outcomes on a regular basis could encourage increased student motivation.
As well as the more formal assessment of studentsí finished projects, progress is closely monitored in the course of completion, particularly in practical lessons. This provides opportunities for affirmation and encouragement and is central to the high levels of achievement of the students. Such informal assessment is used as an indicator of studentsí strengths and abilities when giving individual guidance, as the need arises, for making choices in relation to suitably challenging but attainable design projects. The use of such a responsive and sensitive approach to assessment and motivation is commended and it does much to maintain the high levels of student engagement, enthusiasm and achievement observed in the course of the inspection.
As in Construction Studies, assessment of design projects in MTW includes the studentís creative design work as well as the realised project. This helps to maintain appropriate emphasis on design as the central element in the teaching of the subject. Commendably, this breadth of assessment is consistent with the objectives of the syllabus.
Studentsí attendance and assessment outcomes are carefully and systematically recorded in the teacherís diary to form an accurate basis for tracking studentsí performance over time and for reporting to parents at parent-teacher meetings, which are held twice annually, in autumn and spring, following school examinations. School reports are issued three times per year, following school examinations, in autumn, spring and summer.
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:
∑ Management is urged to increase the allocation of time for MTW in first year.
∑ The teachers of all the technologies are urged, where not already done, to devise a joint approach and to collaborate on a cross-curricular plan for MTW, Metalwork and Technical Graphics in first year in order to lessen the impact of reduced time allocations to each of the subjects.
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the teacher of Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies, the principal and deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.