An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science
Roll number: 70560K
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science
This report has been written following a subject inspection conducted as part of a whole-school evaluation in Gaelcholáiste Chiarraí. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and laboratories 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.
Whole-school support for the provision of the sciences is very good. Science is a core subject in junior cycle, all Transition Year (TY) students take modules of Science, and Biology, Chemistry and Physics are offered as optional subjects for Leaving Certificate. It is clear that the study of the sciences for Leaving Certificate is encouraged. Almost all students study Biology, the uptake of Chemistry is very good and that of Physics is good.
Appropriate provision is made for the subject area in all curricular programmes that are offered in the school. Timetabling, including that for practical work, is satisfactory across all years and programmes and class groups generally have a good distribution of lessons across the week. To further assist in the timetabling of lessons across the week for all class groups, the school should consider having a maximum of one double lesson, rather than two double lessons each week for the Junior and Leaving Certificate science subjects. This would also have the advantage of increasing class contact across the week. Students have weekly access to the laboratories.
All classes are of mixed ability. It was reported that the teachers generally retain the same class group for the Junior Certificate and again for the Leaving Certificate. The school should ensure that this strategy is practised to the greatest extent possible to provide for continuity of learning.
The option blocks for the Leaving Certificate are based on students’ choices. This is commended. Students are provided with good support when choosing their optional subjects for the Leaving Certificate. There is good linkage with the learning-support department and it was reported that students are provided with extra support in the sciences as necessary.
The school has two well-resourced laboratories. The commitment of management and teachers to science is illustrated by the work involved in the recent conversion of a classroom into a second laboratory. The laboratories have a good physical layout and are well ordered and maintained. The associated preparation and storage area attached to the upstairs laboratory is satisfactory and well organised. However, there is no preparation and storage area attached to the downstairs laboratory. Equipment is stored in an organised manner within this laboratory and chemicals for Junior Certificate Science are stored in a locked glass press. Management reported that when additional classrooms become available, the school has plans to convert an adjoining room into a preparation and storage area.
Due regard is given to health and safety in science, each laboratory has an appropriate level of safety equipment and safety rules are on display. Commendably, chemicals are stored according to Department guidelines in the upstairs store. Teachers have endeavoured to store the chemicals in the downstairs laboratory in as safe a manner as is currently possible. It is suggested that a steel press might be more suitable for the storage of chemicals in the interim. These chemicals are currently stored in accordance with storage classification colour codes, with the exception of flammable chemicals, which are stored in the school’s flame resistant press.
The use of information and communication technology (ICT) in teaching and learning is actively promoted in the sciences. Each laboratory has internet access, computer and data logging equipment and one laboratory has a ceiling-mounted data projector.
While acknowledging the change and increase in science personnel in recent years due to increasing student numbers, it is recommended that the deployment of staff facilitate rotation of all teachers across all programmes. Teachers are encouraged and facilitated to attend continuing professional development (CPD) courses. A number of teachers are engaged in personal professional development that should further enhance, for example the TY Science programme and the delivery of support to students with additional needs. This is highly commended. The school also supports the teachers’ membership of the Irish Science Teachers’ Association.
A high level of provision is made for co-curricular and extracurricular science activities, including fieldtrips, participation in science week activities and entries to the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition. In addition the school is involved in the Discover Sensors and the Parsal projects. The commitment and dedication of teachers in providing these stimulating activities that enhance students’ interest and learning is commended.
The small size of the science department facilitates a good level of informal communication on an ongoing basis. To supplement this interaction, formal meetings that are minuted are held a number of times during the year. Consideration could be given to extending the records of such meetings to include the decisions taken. In addition, effective teaching and learning strategies could be discussed at these meetings. These discussions would enhance and formalise the informal discussions that currently take place. Given the increasing size of the student cohort, it is recommended that a co-ordinator for the sciences be put in place. This position should be rotated among the science teachers on a yearly or two-yearly basis in order to provide the opportunity for the teachers to enhance their leadership and organisational skills.
The programmes of work for first year and for second year are based on the syllabus, with the learning outcomes identified. This is laudable. The development of a common plan for first year that is complemented by common summative assessment is commended. This common planning should be extended to the remainder of junior cycle and the plan should be further developed to include resources used, teaching and learning strategies and approaches to assessment. Shared resources that comprise one element of the science department folder provide further evidence of the good level of co-operation that exists among the teachers.
Commendably, the written programme of work for the TY programme is in keeping with TY guidelines. The outline plan comprises topics that provide students with the opportunity to develop scientific knowledge and understanding of areas to which they otherwise would not be exposed. In addition, topics that are components of Leaving Certificate syllabuses are studied in an innovative way. This is commended. The programme of work should be extended in the same manner as the Junior Certificate science plan. It is suggested that a single science department folder be created comprising the programmes of work for all the sciences, common issues such as health and safety, assessment practices and records of meetings.
The quality of the short-term planning for all of the lessons visited was good and in some instances very good. The ready availability of equipment and teaching aids provided for well-organised student practical work and group work. A PowerPoint presentation and worksheets supported students’ learning. There was evidence of a compiled folder of resources, including worksheets and acetates, to support the learning and teaching process. This is commended.
Lessons were well structured and the aims were generally outlined at the outset. Review of students’ learning was factored into the planning in one lesson, a strategy that should be used in all lessons. An innovative approach to recapping on students’ learning was the utilisation of group work, where one student acted as quiz master. It is recommended that the learning outcomes of lessons be shared at the outset and revisited during the recapitulation session to ascertain the learning that had occurred during the lesson. To facilitate students’ differing learning abilities, consideration should be given to outlining the work that must be, should be and could be completed during lessons.
In some lessons, questioning was used very effectively to engage students in the learning activity. There was evidence of good continuity with previous lessons by linking with, and building on, students’ prior knowledge and experience. This was facilitated through questioning during the initial stages of some lessons to check students’ understanding and previous knowledge and to develop lesson content. The policy of directing questions to individual students should be utilised to a greater extent in all lessons. Students’ responses indicated good understanding and knowledge in the main.
A variety of methodologies was effectively employed in some lessons. These included students’ practical work, group work and written and oral questioning. Employment of a range of strategies during a lesson would more successfully enhance students’ ongoing participation and learning rather than students’ involvement in written activities for the duration of the lesson. In one instance, the lesson was structured as a series of short activities. This had the effect of ensuring students’ ongoing active participation throughout and proved a good motivational device.
There were some good examples of the use of active-learning methodologies that were appropriate to students’ needs and abilities, and which resulted in an appropriate balance between teacher input and student activity. This balance was particularly good in a second-year lesson visited, which incorporated the effective use of student-created learning centres and worksheets. Group work and practical work were highly organised, and students were supported in their work as their teacher moved around the room.
Clear explanations facilitated students’ learning. Good use of the board assisted in developing lesson content in one instance and use of a handout further provided significant support in consolidating students’ understanding of atoms, elements, compounds and molecules. This is good practice. It is recommended that whole-class discussion take place in advance of note taking to ensure student understanding of the concept.
Exemplary use of a computer and data projector was observed during the introductory session of one of the lessons visited. The incorporation of student questioning and subsequent reinforcement using the PowerPoint presentation ascertained and consolidated students’ learning. The presentation, previously developed in conjunction with the students, very effectively enhanced the learning of a very difficult concept, providing visual explanations of the theory under discussion. This is commended. All lessons were conducted in Irish and cognisance was taken of the students’ needs and abilities in using Irish as a means of communication. As a further support to students, the development by students of key word lists for each topic or a key word dictionary could be considered. In all lessons observed appropriate homework was also assigned, which was seen to expand on and enhance the work carried out in class.
Classroom management was very good and a pleasant and positive atmosphere that was conducive to learning was predominant. Where it was necessary, discipline was sensitively maintained. A very good teacher-student rapport existed, and relations were grounded in a sense of mutual respect. Student participation was encouraged and effective use was made of student affirmation. The laboratories visited, in particular the laboratory on the ground floor, were attractive and stimulating and were enhanced by the display of a variety of educational posters and scientific models. Commendably, there was some display of students’ work, an approach that should be used to a greater extent thus facilitating the celebration of students’ achievement. Commendably, the area outside the downstairs laboratory is used to promote the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition.
In all classes visited, students engaged readily with the classroom activities and they were purposeful in their work. They were encouraged to work at times independently and at other times collaboratively. This is good practice. It was observed in some instances that the teachers’ enthusiasm for the relevant subject created a positive and challenging learning environment to which, in the main, the students responded favourably. Students generally exhibited a genuine interest in the sciences and were encouraged to work hard and achieve their best. The teachers are to be praised for their success in instilling in students an interest in and enthusiasm for the sciences.
Assessment follows normal lines, with non-certificate examination class groups having formal examinations at Christmas and summer. Certificate examination classes have pre-examinations in the spring. Regular assessment of students’ progress is ascertained via questioning in class and topic tests. This is commended.
All Junior Certificate students have laboratory notebooks/workbooks in which they record their investigative work. Monitoring and annotation of these books should be employed to a greater extent to facilitate the planned inclusion of practical work in the terminal examinations. This inclusion is encouraged as it provides motivation for engagement by all students with the practical element of the course and reflects the assessment objectives of the Junior Certificate syllabus.
Written and learning homework was set in the lessons observed, the aim of which was to consolidate students’ learning. This is good practice, as it provides an opportunity for students to develop their written skills, in addition to reinforcing understanding. Consideration could be given to the implementation of the desirable practice of teacher annotation, which reflects an element of assessment for learning (AfL). Further information on AfL can be accessed at www.ncca.ie.
Results are systematically recorded by the teachers and communicated to parents twice yearly in school reports. Parents may also avail of the opportunity to meet teachers on request in addition to the annual parent-teacher meetings. Teachers’ records of students’ achievement and progress, as well as attendance, were in evidence during the evaluation period. This is commended. A record of the national average in State examination results is retained in the science department folder. It is suggested that the department compile a written analysis of the school’s achievement in State examinations and that this analysis be provided to management for inclusion in the principal’s report to the board of management.
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 with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, April 2010