An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Chemistry
Bóthar Stigh Lorgan, Baile an Bhóthair
Roll number: 60042F
Date of inspection: 22 and 23 September 2008
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN SCIENCE AND CHEMISTRY
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Íosagáin as part of a whole-school evaluation. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science and in Chemistry 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, 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.
There is good support for the study of Science in the school, as all students study the subject at junior cycle. Science forms a component of the school’s Transition Year (TY) programme. This provides a useful opportunity for students to sample senior-cycle science subjects in advance of choosing their subjects for the Leaving Certificate and this is supportive of students. The level of uptake of Chemistry, Physics, and Biology at senior cycle is very good. This suggests positive attitudes among students to studying these subjects and this was borne out in the school during the interaction between the inspector and students.
All class groups in Science and in Chemistry are of mixed ability and the school’s practice is for each class group to retain the same teacher throughout their study of the syllabus. These practices are wholly appropriate.
The time allocated for Science in second year and in third year meets with the syllabus recommendations. The time allocated in first year consists of three class periods weekly and this gives rise to a total allocation that is one class period less than what is recommended by the syllabus. This allocation arises from the school’s policy of providing a broad range of subjects in first year to assist students in selecting their optional subjects. During its curricular review processes it is recommended that the school review the total time allocated for Science to ensure that it meets with the requirements of the syllabus. The time allocated to Chemistry at senior cycle fully meets the syllabus recommendations.
There are two science laboratories in the school. Given the number of students in the school and the numbers choosing to take science subjects at senior cycle there is significant demand for access to the laboratories. A variety of possible mechanisms for improving access to the laboratories is being considered by the school. One of these includes the possibility of removing students with learning-support needs in Irish or in English from science lessons thus reducing the numbers in a class group. This was discussed during the feedback meeting and it was advised that such students might function well in a science lesson due to its practical nature and the inherent variety of learning opportunities provided by science subjects. To assist in addressing the issue of access to laboratories it is recommended that the board of management prioritises laboratory access and plans accordingly.
The level of provision of equipment for Science and Chemistry, including information and communication technology (ICT) equipment, is good. The ICT equipment includes an interactive whiteboard in one of the laboratories. Good use was made of this resource during lessons that were observed.
The science teachers are active in supporting a range of extracurricular activities. These activities include organising and participating in science quizzes, Science Week, the Science Olympiad, drama, trips to third-level colleges and guest speakers. The students’ understanding and appreciation of Science is enhanced by their involvement in these activities. The very good work done by the teachers in supporting students’ participation in science-related extracurricular activities is to be commended.
There is very good support for the science teachers’ continuing professional development. They are facilitated in attending relevant in-service courses and the school pays for the teachers’ membership of the relevant professional subject association.
There are appropriate structures in place in the school to support subject planning. A subject co-ordinator has been appointed and frequent meetings take place, formally and informally. There is a high level of collegiality and cooperation among the science teachers and this was evident during discussions with them. This positive atmosphere supports collaborative planning and has underpinned the good work that has been completed to date in drawing up the science plan.
The subject planning documentation that was presented for inspection was comprehensive in nature and it was evident that very good work had been done in devising plans for each subject. The TY plan showed balance in its construction as it contained material that is within the remit of the leaving certificate syllabus for each science area as well as material in a variety of other areas. This approach to TY science is to be commended as it helps to ensure that students are engaged by a variety of subject matter that extends their appreciation of science and is in keeping with the ethos of TY. Where individual planning files were presented for inspection these were of a high quality and showed the high levels of commitment and professionalism that teachers brought to their work. In building on this range of very good work it is advised that the next stage in subject planning should focus on the development of a methodologies section within the subject plan. This could be achieved through formally sharing and considering the methodologies used with students and trialling a variety of learning strategies. This was discussed with the science staff during the feedback meeting and was met with agreement and enthusiasm.
The standard of preparation for each lesson that was observed was very high with all materials and equipment being prepared in advance and each aspect of all lessons running well as a result. The teachers demonstrated a very high level of subject matter expertise during each lesson and it was evident that they had carefully considered the structure of each lesson in advance.
Student performance of experimental work was central to almost all of the lessons that were observed and this is good practice as the principles of investigation and hands-on activity by students are fundamental to teaching and learning in the sciences. It was particularly noteworthy that experimental work was undertaken during single lesson periods and during double lesson periods, in laboratories and in classrooms. The integration of these practically-based learning experiences for students, in the classroom and in the laboratory, provided optimal support for students’ learning and helped to support their understanding of topics under study. This is good practice. The experimental work was performed safely and good safety practices were emphasised by the teachers at all times. While students performed the experiments their teachers circulated among them providing individual support, advice and guidance where required. This approach to meeting students’ individual learning needs is to be commended as good practice.
A range of teaching methodologies was used effectively during the lessons observed. Directed questioning was the most frequently used questioning style and it was most effective in enabling teachers to gain feedback on students’ understanding, while helping to ensure that all students had an opportunity to participate and contribute. ICT was used to good effect to provide clear visual aids for students during their learning. Good practice was observed where lessons created opportunities for students to work and learn independently and in groups following inputs from their teacher. Where this was observed, it served to enhance students’ responsibility for their own learning. Given the wealth and depth of expertise and experience among the science teachers, sharing of practices in the areas of teaching and learning methodologies and approaches will prove beneficial when addressing the earlier recommendation on exploring and developing a methodologies section in the current subject plan.
There was very good discipline evident during each lesson. Students and their teachers worked well together in a mutually respectful and cooperative manner. It was evident that students felt comfortable in asking questions of and interacting with their teachers and that their questions and contributions were treated in a positive and affirmative manner. This helped to create a positive learning atmosphere among students and their teachers.
Irish was the language of instruction in each lesson and this was wholly appropriate given the context of the school as an Irish-medium post primary school. Where students had difficulties with scientific terminology these difficulties were mediated by their teacher. This was facilitated by strategies such as the use of keyword lists and this good practice is to be commended.
Interaction between the inspector and the students showed that they had high levels of interest in Science and in Chemistry and that they were engaged by the topics being taught. It was evident that the students were active in their own learning.
There are appropriate arrangements in place to regularly assess students’ progress and to report periodically to their parents. The planning documentation provided for inspection detailed the arrangements that are in place for using common assessments with students at the end of each school year. This is good practice as it supports a shared approach to planning and delivery of syllabus content while enabling teachers to compare students’ attainment and gain further information that might support the subject planning process. It was reported that analysis of students’ attainment in the State examinations had been undertaken in the recent past. As such practices help to support subject planning it is advised that the science staff perform an annual analysis of the results achieved by their students in the State examinations.
Examination of students’ experimental copybooks showed that they generally had completed a satisfactory amount of work relative to their year group and the time of year. However, in a number of instances it was evident that students had not completed as many experiments as might be optimal. This should be addressed as part of the planning process by the subject departments agreeing the amount and content of the experimental work to be completed by students during each term.
Students’ experimental skills are assessed by their teachers through monitoring and assessment of the writing up of their practical work and also informally during lessons while the students perform the experiments. In addition, the science teachers have established the good practice of awarding a mark in second year in a formal examination that assesses students’ practical skills. This good practice is reflective of the structure of the Junior Certificate Science examination and enables a comprehensive assessment of students’ progress in all areas of the syllabus, both theoretical and practical. In building on this good practice it is recommended that the science staff consider further extending the formal assessment of students’ practical skills to include all year groups. Given the limitations on laboratory access this may mean considering alternative methods of assessing students’ practical skills such as group assessment and peer assessment during the performance of experimental work.
Samples of students’ work were viewed. Given the mixed ability nature of classes this work was of a generally high standard. The science staff regularly corrects and monitors students’ work and this is good practice. In particular, it was noted that teachers provide affirmative and guiding comments when correcting students’ work and this good practice is to be commended as it helps students to identify where and how to improve their learning. In a small number of instances it was noted that some students had not completed or corrected the work as indicated by the teacher’s comments. In this context, it is advised that students be reminded by their teachers of their responsibilities to improve their work based on the feedback from their teacher.
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 teachers of Science and Chemistry 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