An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Biology
Ardee Community School
Ardee, County Louth
Roll number: 91441T
Date of inspection: 29 September 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and biology
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ardee Community School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science and Biology and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of these subjects 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 teachers and examined students’ work. 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. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Ardee Community School offers of the following programmes: the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), the Junior Certificate, the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA), the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and the established Leaving Certificate. The school is included in Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS), the Department of Education and Science’s action plan for educational inclusion. As a result, the school benefits from the services of a home-school-community liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator. It also works in partnership with the National Behavioural Support Service in the management and operation of a behavioural support classroom.
Science is a core subject at Junior Certificate level and all science classes are mixed ability. The subject is timetabled for four single periods per week in first year. It is recommended that, in future timetabling, one double period be incorporated into this allocation to allow adequate time for practical activities. This is of particular importance given the practical element of the revised Junior Certificate Science syllabus. Second and third year science classes are allocated five periods per week, an allocation which is generous in the context of the syllabus as devised by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA). It is appropriate that all second year and third-year science classes are timetabled for at least one period per week in a laboratory. However, management should avoid timetabling double periods across lunch breaks or splitting class groups between two teachers as this is not conducive to the implementation of experimental work.
Biology, Chemistry and Physics are available as Leaving Certificate subjects with Biology being the most popular. Biology classes are allocated five periods per week including at least one double period for practical work. This allocation is appropriate.
Ardee Community School has four bright, clean and well maintained laboratories which have been refurbished recently. Three of the laboratories are linked by a common preparation and storage area. The level of organisation in the preparation and storage area is of a high standard. Chemicals are organised according to a colour-coded scheme. Materials and apparatus are catalogued and allocated to labelled containers which are stored on open shelves. A range of health and safety equipment was observed, including first aid kits, fire extinguishers, fire blankets, fume cupboards and gas and electricity isolation switches. A code of conduct for the laboratory was also displayed prominently in all laboratories. It is good practice that the code of conduct for the laboratories is circulated as a contract to be signed by parents and students at the beginning of the school year.
Information and communication technology (ICT) provision for the sciences is very good in the school. Each laboratory is equipped with a laptop and data projector. The school is broadband enabled and teachers can also have remote access using their laptops in the laboratories. The science team has access to a range of data loggers. It is notable that two members of the team have been involved with the ‘Discover Sensors’ programme.
A number of the science team has benefited from opportunities for continuing professional development (CPD) during national in-service training. Management is to be commended for its commitment to facilitating attendance at this in-service.
The science team engages in a number of extracurricular and co-curricular activities to promote the sciences in the school. Teachers organise visits to Dundalk Institute of Technology where students can participate in activities during Science Week. Teachers have organised visits to W5 in Belfast and to Dublin Zoo. Ecology fieldwork tasks are carried out in the school grounds which is good practice. Students have attended talks and field trips organised in conjunction with the Central Fisheries Board. Teachers have facilitated students to build go-karts for a Grand Prix competition. The teachers involved are to be congratulated for their commitment, without which the students would not benefit from such stimulating educational experiences.
The subject department is co-ordinated effectively by a subject convenor acting in a voluntary capacity. It is good practice that this position is rotated among members of the science team. Formal meetings of the science department are held twice per year as well as many valuable informal meetings.
During the inspection, common long-term plans were available for Junior Certificate Science and for Leaving Certificate Biology. These were based on the template from the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). They contained clearly defined aims and objectives for each subject, classroom organisation procedures such as seating plans, roll calls and routines for practical work. Safety guidelines which are outlined to students at the start of the year are included in the planning documentation and this is commendable.
Planning documentation for Junior Certificate Science contained a course overview and programmes of work. At the next review of these plans, it is recommended that they be amended to include the learning objectives from the revised Junior Certificate science syllabus. Biology planning documentation included a sequence of topics for both fifth year and sixth year. It is recommended that these plans be expanded to include learning objectives linked to appropriate methodologies and methods of assessment as well as appropriate time frames.
Planning documentation contained reference to the links between the science department and the learning-support department. These included discussions regarding individual students as well as the profiling of students taking the JCSP. The science teachers should also provide the-learning support department with a list of science-specific key words in order to support students who may be experiencing difficulties with Science. A recent development for first-year students has been the introduction of key-word notebooks for all subjects. This is a commendable initiative.
In the classes observed there was evidence of good short-term planning. Materials and resources necessary for each lesson had been prepared in advance.
A record of attendance was taken at the start of all classes visited. In most cases this was followed by correction of homework. This was usually done orally while in some instances teachers collected notebooks for correction. New material was introduced using references to everyday activities or material previously studied by students.
A range of methodologies was utilised by the teachers. In some lessons there was a good balance between teacher instruction and student activity. Active learning methodologies were utilised and seen to be the most engaging for students. The wider use of these methodologies is recommended.
In all lessons observed students were allocated to designated seats. This is a good strategy of classroom management and was seen to be very effective in the majority of lessons. However, it is recommended that this arrangement be monitored and regularly reviewed by the classroom teacher to ensure its effectiveness. Teachers moved around the classrooms monitoring, assisting and checking on students learning. In some instances students experiencing difficulties were given extra teacher time and attention.
Teachers created a positive and supportive learning environment. Good quality learning was in evidence in many lessons and indicated by students’ responses to questions, engagement and participation in group work activities and by the answers to written assignments. Students generally communicated openly with the inspector and demonstrated a good understanding of the lesson.
Where practical work was observed, students worked with good regard for health and safety procedures. The majority of students showed competence in practical skills. Good routines were observed in a number of classes, particularly in the setting up and clearing away of apparatus. Teachers should regularly reinforce routines for practical work and these should be developed from first year onwards. In one lesson, students were asked to make a prediction as to what the outcome of the experiment would be. This is good practice as it encourages higher-order thinking and is reflective of the aims of the revised Junior Certificate science syllabus. Wider use of this methodology is recommended.
It is strongly recommended that all teachers should adopt an investigative approach to practical work. In a number of practical lessons the procedure to be followed was provided for students. It is preferable that students be given opportunities to explore and probe the experiment before committing to a procedure. Best practice was observed where students were shown the apparatus and given the opportunity to discuss the procedure they would use to carry out the experiment. It is commendable that some teachers encouraged students to write-up their account of the experiment in their own words; this good practice should be encouraged for all classes.
A good range of resources was utilised in the lessons visited. These included posters, overhead projector (OHP) transparencies, worksheets, jigsaws and in one lesson a twig from an apple tree was use to show lichen. ICT was integrated very effectively into some lessons. For example, PowerPoint presentations included diagrams to visually reinforce the lesson content. This worked well where worksheets were designed to complement the presentation and they were appropriately integrated into the lesson.
Good use of questioning was observed in many lessons. A range of questioning strategies was adopted and these included directed, open and higher-order questions to encourage the development of critical and analytical skills. Teachers encouraged students to listen to each other and chorus answering was discouraged immediately. Teachers also used questioning effectively in recapitulation at the end of the lessons.
A range of formative and summative assessment modes is used to assess student progress. A number of common tests are set and the marking schemes are based on those used in past certificate examinations. This is commendable. Homework is allocated regularly and corrected regularly either in class or books are collected by the teacher. In a number of lessons visited, peer assessment was regularly used and students were observed to engage well with this method. Class work and homework notebooks were also observed. There was evidence of teacher annotation and correction in many of the notebooks observed. Some teachers made use of assessment for learning practices. This is commendable and this good practice should be expanded across the science department. Further information on assessment for learning practices is available on the website of the NCCA (www.ncca.ie). It is recommended that teachers encourage students to follow up on corrections made. During the inspection the mandatory practical books and folders for Junior Certificate Science were observed. These were of a good standard, were well maintained and contained an appropriate number of write-ups.
Teachers’ diaries observed provided good records of student attendance, completion of home works and results of class tests. Good displays of students’ work were exhibited on notice boards. Topics displayed included ecology, ionic bonding, food, osmosis and the senses. Commendably, some posters had been generated from science-related articles in newspapers. It is commendable that the displays originated from a range of classes from both Junior Certificate Science and Leaving Certificate Biology.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The school has four bright, clean and well maintained laboratories which have been refurbished recently.
· ICT provision for the sciences is very good in the school.
· The subject department is co-ordinated effectively by a subject convenor and this position is rotated among members of the science team.
· Where practical work was observed, students worked with good regard for health and safety procedures.
· The range of questioning strategies adopted included directed, open and higher-order questions to encourage the development of critical and analytical skills.
· A range of formative and summative assessment modes is used to assess student progress.
· Teachers’ diaries observed provided good records of student attendance, completion of home works and results of class tests.
· In a number of lessons visited, peer assessment was regularly used and students were observed to engage well with this method.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· In future timetabling, one double period should be incorporated into the class allocation for first-year students to allow adequate time for practical activities.
· Management should avoid timetabling double periods across lunch breaks or splitting classes between two teachers as it is not conducive to the implementation of experimental work.
· All teachers should adopt an investigative approach to practical work.
· It is recommended that the plans for senior cycle Biology be expanded to include learning objectives linked to appropriate methodologies and methods of assessment as well as appropriate time frames.
· It is recommended that teachers encourage students to follow up on corrections made to their written work.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published February 2010