An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Chemistry
St Josephís Christian Brothersí School
Fairview, Dublin 3
Roll number: 60390F
Date of inspection: 27 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Chemistry
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Josephís CBS, conducted 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 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.
In this school, Science is a core subject at junior cycle. At senior cycle, students may study Transition Year (TY) Science, Leaving Certificate (LC) Biology, LC Chemistry, and LC Physics. Thus, students may study a wide range of science subjects. All students in the school tend to take the TY programme. It is commendable that modules of Biology, Chemistry, and Physics are included in the schoolís TY programme. Exposure to these subjects helps to inform studentsí subject choices for senior cycle while developing their scientific knowledge and skills.
The uptake of Physics is good, the uptake of Biology is satisfactory, and the uptake of Chemistry varies significantly from year to year. Subject options are based each year on studentsí preferences and this is good practice. Senior school management reported that a class group is formed for Chemistry subject to sufficient demand from students and this shows support for the study of Chemistry.
The time allocation for Chemistry meets with the recommendations of the syllabus. The time allocation for Science meets with the recommendations of the syllabus in first year and in third year. The time allocation in second year currently consists of one double-lesson period and one single-lesson period weekly. Senior school management reported that the school has taken steps to ensure that all second-year students will have one double-lesson period and two single lesson periods weekly from the next academic year onwards. This revised time allocation will meet fully with the recommendations of the syllabus. The proactive approach taken by the school to addressing the issue is to be commended.
All class groups are of mixed ability. The school strives to ensure that they retain the same teacher for Science throughout junior cycle and the same teacher for Chemistry at senior cycle. This practice supports continuity of learning and is to be commended.
There are two science laboratories in the school each with an adjacent preparation and storage area. These facilities are in very good repair and they are clean, bright, and well maintained. The science facilities are well equipped and have sufficient materials to support teaching and learning in Science and in Chemistry. The science teachers have plans to develop a formal inventory of resources and this is to be encouraged. The have done good work in organising the laboratories, preparation, and storage areas and this work is to be commended.
The school has, appropriately, a health and safety statement that is reviewed regularly. The science teachers are involved in reviewing the statement and this is good practice.
The amount of information and communications technologies (ICT) resources available for teaching and learning in science subjects is good. The ICT resources include a computer and a data projector in each laboratory. Currently, broadband internet access is available in one laboratory and there are plans to extend it to the other laboratory; this progress is to be welcomed. Interviews with the science teachers revealed that they are enthusiastic to further develop the integration of ICT in the teaching and learning of science subjects and this is to be encouraged.
During the evaluation, the science teachers demonstrated a high level of commitment to meeting the needs of students with special educational needs. Good work has been done in fostering links with Dublin City University on a project to develop and implement methodologies appropriate to the needs of students. There is ongoing informal liaison with the schoolís care and resource team and this liaison has helped to support the science teachersí work with students. There are good links with a feeder primary school and students from the primary school are introduced to Science in St Josephís by attending science lessons during school time. In addition, evidence of planning for teaching students with special educational needs was presented for inspection. This planning documentation provided further evidence of the good work done by the science staff in supporting students with special educational needs.
There is good support by the school for the science teachersí continuing professional development. They have been facilitated in attending all relevant in-service education courses and the school provides support for the teachersí membership of relevant professional associations.
A senior teacher is, formally, the co-ordinator for the science department. However, interviews with staff revealed that the science teachers work well together in a collaborative manner with a strong sense of mutual responsibility and accountability for the functioning of the department. It was also evident that the science teachers and school management enjoy a mutually supportive and positive working relationship. The science teachers meet regularly, formally and informally, to plan and prepare for the teaching and learning of their subjects. Minutes of formal meetings are retained and this is good practice.
The science teachers have demonstrated high levels of professionalism and commitment to ongoing improvement by carrying out the recommendations of a previous subject inspection in Science and Biology and this is to be commended.
Copies of the science plan and of the chemistry plan were viewed. They are comprehensive documents and they contain useful information that supports the teaching and learning of Science and Chemistry. The good work done by the science teachers in drawing up these plans is to be commended. In building on the good work done by the science teachers in supporting students with special educational needs and in the context of the increasing numbers of students with special educational needs who are enrolling in the school, it is recommended that the focus for future subject planning be on differentiated teaching and learning methodologies and their implementation.
A copy of the TY science plan was viewed. In the main, the physics and chemistry components of the plan require students to complete a number of experiments based on worksheets provided to them. The good work done in developing worksheets to support studentsí experimental work and the inclusion of practical work within the TY science plan are to be commended. However, the experiments that students complete rely heavily on material from the Leaving Certificate physics syllabus and chemistry syllabus. Thus, it is recommended that the physics and chemistry components of the TY Science plan be reviewed with a focus on rebalancing the content to avoid over reliance on material from the leaving certificate syllabuses.
Where teachersí individual planning work was viewed, it was of a very high standard. It included weekly and daily planning for all lessons and this level of professional dedication to preparing for the teaching of science subjects is to be commended.
All lessons that were observed were appropriate to the relevant syllabus. Short-term lesson planning and preparation were good. Teachers had prepared lesson materials, experimental apparatus, and supplementary materials such as worksheets and models to support studentsí learning. The science teachersí work in planning and preparing for the lessons taught is to be commended.
A range of methodologies was used in the lessons evaluated. Questioning was used most effectively when it was directed in nature and when there was a balanced mix of higher-order and lower-order question types and it is encouraged that questioning strategies reflect these principles. Teacher-led discussion, instruction, and explanation were used frequently in all lessons and they were clear and helpful in aiding studentsí learning. In a number of lessons, there was frequent recap and reinforcement of studentsí learning and this is good practice. It is advised that recap and reinforcement be used regularly in all lessons to ensure consolidation of studentsí learning.
Teachers used the board effectively to highlight key learning points. Teacher-led demonstrations were clear and effective in aiding studentsí understanding of the concepts under study. Good practice was noted during teacher-led demonstrations, as there was an emphasis on developing studentsí skills in predicting experimental outcomes based on their understanding of the underlying theory. Good practice was also noted where teachers linked the topics being taught to studentsí everyday experiences.
ICT was used as a display tool in some lessons and lists of web sites were given to students to enable them to research the topics being studied. In supporting the science teachersí enthusiasm to further develop the use of ICT it is suggested that students could be further enabled to use ICT in their studies by accessing information online during lessons and by using the available equipment in school to display, report and analyse the results of their experimental work. It was reported that some science lessons have taken place in the schoolís computer room and this provides further evidence to demonstrate the teachersí commitment to integrating ICT in studentsí learning experiences.
Where students undertook practical work it was performed safely. The students showed good team-working skills as they worked well together. They benefited from a high level of support from their teachers who circulated among them as they worked, advising and guiding when needed. In almost all lessons, studentsí experimental work helped to develop their understanding of the underlying scientific theory being studied. In cases where this was not the case, it was noted that the focus for studentsí learning was on developing and refining psychomotor and observational skills. For example, students completed experimental work in areas such as Boyleís Law and Schnellís Law without necessarily having prior knowledge or understanding of the underlying theory. Studentsí learning is best supported by placing it in a context from which students can develop their understanding. Thus, it is recommended that equal priority be given to developing studentsí understanding of the theory relevant to their experimental work and to their performance of this experimental work. This will help to ensure that experimental work is contextualised for students.
In a small number of lessons, scientific literacy and oracy were an issue for a small number of students. The development of word lists and word banks would help to support these students and these are to be encouraged. In helping to support the teachers work with students with studentsí oracy difficulties in Science it is encouraged that students be given further opportunities during lessons to use scientific terminology and that reading aloud could help to support oracy development. In this regard, it is noted that the science department has an extensive bank of contemporary scientific magazines and further use of these to support studentsí scientific literacy and oracy is advised.
The laboratories benefited from displays of charts, posters, and studentsí work. These helped to create a sense of a scientific learning space. There was a positive atmosphere in all lessons and there was good rapport among students and their teachers. Discipline was maintained in all lessons. Students and their teachers worked in a mutually respectful manner. Affirmation of studentsí responses and efforts was a particularly notable feature of a number of lessons as it was used to encourage studentsí participation and resulted in a very positive learning environment.
Students were engaged in lesson activities through listening, responding, writing, and performing experimental work. Observation of their work during lessons, their responses to questions posed by teachers and interaction between students and the inspector revealed that they generally had good levels of knowledge and understanding of the topics being taught relative to their abilities. Discussions between students and the inspector showed that students had good levels of interest in Science and in Chemistry.
There are appropriate arrangements in place to assess studentsí progress regularly and to report to parents periodically. There is a range of systems in place to support communication between the school and parents and these systems include use of studentsí journals, formal reports, parent-teacher meetings, and telephone contact when required.
Analysis of studentsí achievements in the certificate examinations is carried out by the principal and communicated to teachers and parents. In building on this practice, it is advised that the science teachers use a formal analysis of the results obtained by their students to help inform the subject-planning process.
Samples of studentsí copybooks were viewed. It was evident from these that practical work is a strong component of studentsí learning and they have generally completed a satisfactory amount of work. It was evident from observation during lessons and from examination of studentsí copybooks that homework is a regular feature of studentsí learning. In comparing a number of copybooks, there was variety in the amount of homework completed by a small number of students. This was attributed by teachers to these studentsí absenteeism. To assist students who might be absent it would be helpful if copies of the science and chemistry plans showing the content to be covered during the year were given to each student at the beginning of the school year.
Studentsí copybooks showed that teachers monitor their work regularly. In the majority of samples, this monitoring was mainly tick-based. However, in a number of copybooks, there was evidence of formative, comment-based feedback to students on their work. This is good practice and is to be encouraged for all class groups. Some useful advice in relation to assessment for learning principles can be found at www.ncca.ie. In building on the good practices in use by the science teachers, it is recommended that they develop and agree a shared approach to assessment, homework and feedback. The focus points for such a shared approach should be on the frequency of assessment and homework, the types of assessment and homework to be used, the frequency of feedback and the types of feedback to be used.
In addressing the recommendations of a previous subject inspection the science teachers have included credit for studentsí practical work in end-of-term examinations and this is to be commended. In building on this practice it is encouraged that the credit includes provision for assessing and rewarding the range of practical skills gained by students during the performance of their experimental work.
The science teachers support studentsí involvement in a wide range of extra-curricular and co-curricular science-related activities and this good work is acknowledged and is to be commended.
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:
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published September 2008