An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta

 

Department of Education and Science

 

 

Subject Inspection of Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies

REPORT

 

 

Mayfield Community School

Cork

Roll number: 91400F

 

 

Date of inspection: 27 September 2007

Date of issue of report: 21 February 2008

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

Report

on

the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mayfield Community School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Materials Technology (Wood) (MTW) and Construction Studies (CS) 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 and subject teachers.

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

Mayfield Community School has provided for the educational needs of the children of Mayfield and its surrounding areas for over thirty years. In addition to MTW and CS, students of the school are offered access to a broad educational experience of the technologies through Technical Graphics (TG) and Metalwork (ME) in junior cycle, and Design and Communication Graphics (DCG) and Engineering (ENR) in senior cycle. The school is commended for this level of provision in this curricular area.

 

The support provided by management for subject-department planning and the progress made so far in its integration into the life of the school is commended. Managementís support for teachers taking part in continuing professional development (CPD) provided under the auspices of T4, the support service for the technologies, is acknowledged. This CPD is very valuable, not least for the support it provides for the introduction of three dimensional computer-aided design (CAD) across all of the technologies.

 

There are four periods per week allocated for the teaching of MTW in the second and third years of the junior cycle. In first year, students study each of the optional junior-cycle subjects, including MTW, for a period of twelve to fourteen weeks. While the time allocated to the study of MTW is thus reduced, it is commended that students also study the other technology subjects, ME and TG, as this enriches their educational experience and supports progress in whichever technology subject they may choose to study subsequently. In senior cycle, five periods per week are allocated to the study of CS in both fifth and sixth year. Graphics and Construction Studies (GCS) is allocated five periods per week in the first year of the programme and three periods per week in the second year. CS is allocated four periods per week in Transition Year (TY). In all cases, the time allocated includes at least one double-period lesson. The teaching time allocated to MTW and CS is sufficient for the teaching of the respective syllabuses and the provision of double-period lessons facilitates the completion of practical work. This is consistent with good practice. In many instances classes are timetabled for periods immediately before and after the long lunchtime break. In most cases these classes are also timetabled for a continuous double-period lesson. It is recommended that consideration be given to avoiding the practice of splitting double-period classes over break times as far as possible. The distribution of lessons more evenly over the week increases the frequency of studentsí exposure to the subject being taught.

 

The support of management for the subjects in terms of materials and equipment is commended. There is an annual budget which is notified to the subject department and this supports coherent subject planning.

 

Access to the computer room for MTW and CS classes is booked in advance; however a new room with information and communications technology (ICT) facilities is being provided as part of the refitting of the technologies department in conjunction with the refurbishment of the school. This will provide valuable support for the study of CAD by all students of MTW and CS, together with the other technology subjects.

 

All students study a module of MTW in first year. This provides very good support for student choice in second year when subject-option bands are formed in response to the expressed preferences of the students. This is good practice.

 

In senior cycle, student preference is again the basis for deciding subject-option bands and student choice is supported by their having studied a module of CS in TY. The open procedures in place for subject choice are commended and it is urged that care continues to be exercised to avoid any danger of gender stereotyping, to maintain the present level of girls studying MTW and CS and if possible to improve on this over time.

 

Planning and preparation

 

It is commended that subject department meetings which include the teachers of MTW, TG, CS and DCG are held regularly during time set aside for this purpose. There is an identified convener of these meetings and outcomes are recorded. Less formal meetings also take place as the need arises. The subject-teaching team of MTW and CS is commended for the progress it has made in developing the subject-department structure. For the further development of comprehensive planning for the technologies in the school, given the many areas of concern common to the technology subjects, it is urged that the formation of a single subject department of the technologies, consisting of the teachers of all the technology subjects, be considered. The role of convener might be rotated, perhaps on an annual basis to spread the burden evenly among all the teachers of the subjects concerned and to provide experience of the role for each teacher over time. It could be envisaged that the convener would compile the agendas for meetings and make a concise record of the outcomes. The development of such a structure would have the added advantage of strengthening the overall planning culture of the department.

 

The normal areas covered by subject-department meetings in the school include the agreement of programmes of work for each year, decisions regarding the materials and equipment needed, agreement on usage of rooms, work on the plan for the year and the review of progress made in achieving the aims set out at previous meetings. To further improve this already effective approach to subject planning, it is urged that meetings also include discussion at subject-department level of the most effective teaching methodologies, approaches and strategies to be used in the teaching of each topic on the syllabuses. The outcome of these discussions would then be included in the subject plans. The teachersí own experience will provide a valuable source for the identification and sharing of best practice in this regard. Other sources could include ideas encountered in CPD with T4, discussion with other teaching colleagues and consideration of the guidance of the support services and the broader teaching community. It is not envisaged that this task would be completed immediately; it is rather a continuous process through which the subject teaching team of the technologies would add to the range of teaching approaches in use.

 

Clear programmes of work have been developed for MTW and CS. These programmes are in line with the requirements of the respective syllabuses. In order to take full advantage of the enrichment of studentsí experience of the technologies provided by the study of all the subjects in first year, it is strongly urged that the teaching team collaborate in careful planning of the programmes of work to be followed in MTW, TG and ME. This planning is best undertaken as part of subject-department planning.

 

The assignment of students to higher or ordinary level is on the basis of consultation by students and their parents with the subject teacher and the year head. This is consistent with best practice.

 

Teachers of MTW and CS communicate effectively with the special educational needs team in the school very much in the studentsí interests. This is commended. The subject-teaching team is conscious that their delivery of the curriculum must take account of the mixed-ability nature of the classes formed as a result of the subject option bands in which these subjects operate. The planning of project work being undertaken by students takes account of the individual studentís ability and interests. Care is taken to present lessons in accessible language and while relevant text books are used, these are not depended upon as a source but are supplemented by materials prepared by the teachers. The special educational needs of students are met in this way. Provision is made in MTW for those students following the Junior Certificate School Programme.

 

While the woodwork rooms were not available for use at the time of the inspection due to unavoidable over-run of the refurbishment work being undertaken, careful planning for the use of alternative rooms minimised the disruption caused. The programmes of work were adapted to take account of the circumstances and this is commended.

 

The use of ICT in the teaching of MTW and CS was also disrupted at the time of the inspection because of the refurbishment. It is commended that CAD, using SolidWorks software, is being introduced in TY as an IT module. The cross-curricular nature of this development, as well as its value in preparing students for study in senior cycle, is commended. It is urged that all students of the technologies be introduced to SolidWorks at the earliest possible opportunity. The use of this software in support of studentsí work on MTW project design work has the potential to be particularly valuable if the students are introduced to it at an early stage.

 

The provision of ICT hardware and software for the introduction of the new DCG syllabus, and for use in all of the technologies, provides a uniquely valuable opportunity for the development of digital teaching resources for MTW and CS. The subject teachers are urged to make full use of facilities such as data projectors, digital media and broadband in their lessons to further improve the learning experiences of their students.

 

Teaching and learning

 

There was evidence of a range of suitable teaching strategies being effectively employed in the lessons visited in the course of the inspection. In a GCS lesson, students used wooden cubes to model various solids which they then drew in orthographic projection. When asked, several of the students pointed out that they found it much easier to visualise the solids involved having first modelled them in reality. This was testament to the success of the strategy. This was a fine example of the best use of appropriate teaching methodology to bring about the desired learning outcome.

 

While it is acknowledged that there was a greater emphasis than usual on the teaching of theory in the course of the inspection due to the woodwork rooms being unavailable, it is recommended, to further improve the learning experiences of the students, that the use of active teaching methodologies be explored and adopted, in particular for the teaching of theoretical content. Approaches such as pair and group work, discovery learning and peer teaching can make a valuable contribution to studentsí learning. It is recommended that the development and use of these methodologies be done in conjunction with subject-department planning.†

 

The lessons visited were coherently structured with clearly defined introductions which often involved the purpose of the lesson being stated and previous related work being revised briefly before moving on to the development of the topic. The lessons were generally well paced. Occasionally textbooks tended to be used in a less than ideal way, with students copying sketches and transcribing short notes directly into their copybooks, although this was done in conjunction with some questioning and explanation. It is urged that care be exercised in the use of the textbook in class in place of more active involvement of the students in the exploration of lesson content. Questioning was used very effectively in the lessons observed.††

 

Discipline in each of the lessons visited was based on a willing acceptance by students of the accepted behaviour and established routines. It was intrinsic to the students and their activities in the classroom. Interactions were characterised by good rapport and positive relationships between teachers and students and between students themselves. The atmosphere in the lessons observed was pleasant, work-focussed and conducive to learning. Students were secure and their efforts were consistently affirmed by their teachers.

 

Communication through graphics is central to the technologies. It is recommended that every effort is made to reflect the importance of the graphical medium in the level of visual media displayed in all rooms in which the technologies are taught. The materials displayed would ideally consist of some of the studentsí work together with subject-related charts and posters. It is also urged that studentsí design-project work be displayed. The creation of an ambience which encourages awareness in the students of the nature of the subjects will do much to focus their learning. The display of word lists and in particular of new terminology which might provide some difficulty for the students is also recommended.

 

It is the policy of the teaching team of MTW and CS to set regular homework assignments for their students. The level of the homework is appropriate to student ability and it is assigned in manageable amounts based on the work being done in class. This is good practice.

 

Assessment

 

Students studying MTW and CS sit formal school examinations at Christmas and in summer. Those about to sit state examinations, in third year and in sixth year, also sit mock examinations. The results of these examinations are communicated to parents by means of school reports.

 

In addition to formal examinations, the studentsí achievement is regularly monitored, including on completion of practical projects and in tests at mid-term. The use of continuous assessment, both in MTW and CS, is commended. The marks derived from such continuous assessment are often combined with the more formal examination marks. This practice has consistency with the assessment modes adopted in the state examinations in the subjects and it is thus commended. To derive the maximum benefit from this form of assessment, it is urged that the subject department of the technologies arrive at a common approach to the aggregation of continuous assessment and examination marks. This will help with feedback to the students and to raise the profile of the subjects in the life of the school. In particular where students are made aware of the anticipated impact of their assessments on their end-of-term result, this will act as an affirmation of the progress they have made, or where appropriate as an incentive to greater effort.†

 

The teaching team of MTW and CS keeps individual records of student attendance and achievement in their teacher diaries. These records form the basis of the information shared with parents at parent-teacher meetings. In addition to the channels of communication provided by parent-teacher meetings and school reports, commendable use is made of the studentsí journals on a daily basis for recording of information on homework and assessments. Where needed, teachers make direct contact with individual parents by means of the telephone. This is commended.

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

         The commendable use of appropriate teaching strategies to bring about desired learning outcomes, which were attested to by the students, is affirmed.

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

A post-evaluation meeting was held with the teachers of MTW and CS and the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.