An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Technical Graphics and Technology
De La Salle College
Roll number: 62310O
Date of inspection: 25 September 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 February 2008
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Technical Graphics and Technology
This report has been written following a subject inspection in De La Salle College, Macroom. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Technical Graphics and Technology 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 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.
De La Salle College is a secondary school providing education for the boys of Macroom and the surrounding areas. The applied sciences are represented by Technical Graphics and Technology in the junior cycle curriculum of the college. It is commended that the college has made use of its resources to broaden and balance its curriculum in the direction of the technologies and it is encouraged to continue with its development of technologies in senior cycle. At present Design and Communication Graphics (DCG) is provided outside of the school timetable as an extra subject. This provision is delivered for three hours on Saturdays for interested students. This support for the studentsí interests and preferences is commended and it is urged that the possibility of including DCG in the timetable continue to be considered in the context of the expected increase in the enrolment of the school.
Impressive support for the introduction of Design and Communication Graphics (DCG) and Technology (TE) is being provided by T4, the support service for the technology subjects. While these technology subjects are not yet included in the senior cycle curriculum of the college, it is highly desirable that the TG and TE teaching team take full advantage of the programme being provided by T4. While this programme is aimed primarily at senior cycle, it will also be of great benefit to teachers of the junior cycle syllabuses of these subjects.
TG and TE are taught by four teachers whose professional backgrounds are in the sciences. These teachers are commended for their interest and dedication and the central role they have played in the development of the technologies in the curriculum of the college.
The allocation of two double-period lessons per week for both TG and TE is sufficient for the completion of the respective syllabuses. The provision of double-period lessons supports the practical nature of the subjects.
The use of collaborative teaching, specifically in third year where two teachers work together with the third-year students to complete their design projects, is commended.
In the context of the development of the technologies on its curriculum, it reflects very positively on the college that the interests of the teachers concerned continue to be supported and encouraged.
The management of the college is commended for the quality of its provision for the subjects in terms of materials, equipment and other resources. At present these resources are bought as needed and as requested by the subject teachers. It is suggested that consideration be given to the advantages of formalising an annual budget for the subjects for the recurring costs of purchasing consumables and materials. In the context of developing a robust and active subject-department planning structure and practices, such budgeting would provide opportunities for the subject-teaching team to discuss and agree on priorities for expenditure and would also provide an incentive for care in planning for materials.
Two dedicated rooms are used to teach TG and TE in the college. While the drawing room benefits from an adjacent store room to which it is linked by means of a hatch, the room itself is of barely adequate size for the class sizes involved. Particular care should be taken when distributing drawing boards through the hatch to avoid the risk of boards being dropped, which could easily lead to foot injuries. It is recommended that the boards be lifted from the hatch counter singly by students. The desks in use in the room are of unitary design with fixed seats. The use of these desks for drawing, particular by older, bigger students is not ideal. It is urged that more suitable desks and chairs or stools be provided in the TG room as a means, in particular, of providing students with the best possible environment in which to develop their drafting skills unhindered.
The members of the subject-teaching team of the technologies have been consulted in the development of the collegeís health and safety statement, more often in their role as teachers of the sciences in the case of the teachers of TG. There has been a good measure of consultation with the teaching team concerning the health and safety requirements and procedures of the technology room and it is urged that this continue and be intensified as the room is developed further. The document prepared to guide the students in the safe use of the technology room, the Technology Lab Rules, has already been inserted in the safety statement. It is imperative that care is taken to ensure that the specific section of the statement dealing with the technology room is exhaustive and that the statement is regularly reviewed and updated.
The computer room is available for the use of TE classes. The personal computers (PCs) in the room are of recent specification. There are new PCs being supplied for the technologies and these will be installed in the computer room. At the time of the inspection, electronic circuit design software was being installed in the computer room and the new PCs will have three dimensional computer-aided design (CAD) software pre-installed. It is recommended that the CAD software also be installed on the existing machines in the computer room if this proves technically feasible. It is further recommended that access to these hardware and software resources be provided for all students studying TG and TE.
In second year, students choose to study either TG or TE. They are given commendable support in making this choice by being provided with experience of both subjects for a half year in first year. Such first-hand experience of the subjects to be chosen is the best basis for making an informed decision. Preparations being made to introduce a TE module to Transition Year (TY) are commended as a further support for students making subject choices. The feasibility of introducing a module of DCG to TY as a further opportunity for students to explore as wide a range of learning as possible should also be explored.
At the time of the inspection, work was underway for the development of subject-department structures for various subjects in the college on a phased basis. It is recommended, in the case of TG and TE that a subject department of the technologies be established. It is urged that the role of convener for subject-department meetings would rotate, perhaps on an annual basis, with the convener taking responsibility for calling meetings as required, preparing agendas and ensuring that a concise record is kept of the outcomes. The advantages of such an arrangement are clear, providing for sharing of the work involved and for equal involvement of all members of the subject teaching team over time. This, together with efficient and effective recording, will provide for the strengthening of an organisational culture in the subject department
Long-term planning for the development of TE in the college includes the development of the subject in senior cycle. It is to the credit of the school and the subject teachers that the needs and interests of students are being taken into account in this way. Planning for this development, including arrangements for post-graduate study by the teacher who will lead it, is advanced. The contribution made by all concerned with this development is commended.
It is commended that subject documentation in TG and TE included subject plans that outlined the organisation and rationale for their delivery including, among other things, programmes of work for each year in line with syllabus requirements, an outline of the teaching methodologies adopted and a note on providing for the special educational needs of students. This very promising start to subject-plan development is commended. The programmes of work developed as part of the compilation of subject plans are working documents which are reviewed at the yearís end. It is urged that such review become a regular annual function of the developing subject department, particularly in areas where TG and TE are involved in cross-curricular co-operation as in first year. As a result of the subject-choice arrangements in first year, the length of the course for both TG and TE is shortened. Careful planning of the first-year programme in both subjects ensures a successful cross-curricular approach that benefits the students and the quality of their experience of the technologies. It is recommended that the careful development of such a cross-curricular dimension to the first-year programmes in TG and TE be given priority in subject-department planning in the technologies. It is also recommended that the most effective teaching methodologies to be applied to the teaching of the various parts of the respective syllabuses be considered and discussed as part of the subject planning process and that the outcomes of these discussions be included in the respective subject plan.
In both subjects, teachers expressed a clear awareness of the importance of providing for the individual needs of all students, including those with recognised special needs. The approach to dealing with all students is based on differentiation, with suitable work being assigned to each student and teacher support being directed towards those students who need it most. This is clearly the case in TE where project work is carefully tailored to individual studentís needs. In TG, teachers give individual help and encouragement as required, ensuring that all students can successfully complete the work being done. As well as being directly involved, in the case of the teachers of TE, members of the teaching team of the technologies report that they are in regular contact with the special educational needs teachers. This contact informs their provision for individual students in their classes.
Careful planning for resources in the technologies in the college has resulted in well-equipped TE and TG rooms, despite their relatively small size for the numbers of students in the classes. It is to the credit of the teachers involved, particularly in TE, that this planning has been brought to completion. It is urged that the subject department of the technologies work towards a slightly more formalised integrated plan for the development of the resources of both technology subjects, in particular in the context of the increasing emphasis on ICT and extra allocations of equipment for the eventual introduction of TE in senior cycle.
The use of ICT for teaching and learning in the technologies is undergoing a sudden increase due to the provision of sizable extra resources coinciding with the introduction of the new TE and DCG syllabuses in senior cycle. The subject-teaching team of the technologies is already engaged in planning for the use of these resources and this is commended. It is urged that planning focus on the use of these facilities to the greatest extent possible for the teaching and learning of all students of the technologies, in both junior and senior cycle, and specifically that these students be introduced to SolidWorks parametric CAD software as part of their study of the subjects as early as possible. In particular, students will benefit greatly from being introduced to the use of CAD in TG during their exposure to the subject in first year, prior to making subject choices. The addition of some freehand sketching to the first-year programme is also recommended to further enrich studentsí experience of the subject at this decisive stage.
Technology provides ideal opportunities for the education of students in the importance of health and safety and the best procedures for achieving a safe and healthy work environment. It is commended that the organisation of the technology room in De La Salle College does much to instil awareness and understanding of this important area. The following recommendations are made with the intention of ensuring that the technology room provides not just a safe and healthy learning environment but also a means of educating students in the principles of best practice with regard to health and safety.
It is imperative that the electrical installation in the room is reviewed and upgraded if necessary and that an emergency lockdown isolation switch arrangement is installed to control all electrical outlets. It is also strongly recommended that standard safety signs for the mandatory use of personal protection equipment (PPE) be erected as appropriate on or adjacent to all relevant machines, that the required PPE be made readily available and that its use be insisted upon for all users of the machines. It is urged that relevant notices listing the proper procedures and precautions to be followed for the safe use of individual machines are prepared, laminated and displayed adjacent to the machines. The procedures and precautions are those that are impressed on students when they are introduced to the use of the particular machine. It is recommended that safe operational areas (SOA) be marked on the floor around all fixed machines with appropriate yellow and black lines. It is urged that the purpose of the SOA and its implications for movement and behaviour in the technology room are displayed by means of a suitably positioned simple laminated notice. The rule which demands that machines are under the control of a single operator within an SOA must be rigidly enforced. It is recommended that a formal risk assessment be conducted to determine the maximum class size which can be catered for in the technology room, taking account of the characteristics of the class group.
An assessment of all equipment in the technology room should be carried out as a matter of urgency. This assessment should, together with a full consideration of all aspects of equipment suitability, condition and use, address the use of mains voltage hand tools and the use of a bench saw which is not firmly anchored to the floor. In addition to the recommendations made here, the Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post-primary Schools (State Claims Agency, Department of Education and Science, 2005), available on www.education.ie, should be consulted in detail when reviewing health and safety. Full use should be made of the audit checklist provided at the back of the review as part of the assessment.
The approach taken in the lessons visited involved demonstration by the teacher of the work being undertaken, followed by a phase during which the students undertook the work while being closely monitored by their teacher, who provided encouragement, help and affirmation of progress as appropriate in a one-to-one or small group setting. The length of the demonstrations was appropriate to the abilities and needs of the students, who were given sufficient time to complete the work, while a suitable level of challenge was maintained. It is urged that opportunities be sought to increase the variety of teaching methodologies.
In a second-year TG lesson, students were involved in the revision of various constructions involving circles, lines and angles. The students followed the teacherís blackboard demonstrations and successfully completed each construction. To further enhance the studentsí experience of success in applying the constructions already completed in previous lessons, it is urged in such circumstances that greater opportunities for problem solving by students be provided. The great satisfaction of reaching a correct solution to a problem with a minimum of input from the teacher is a powerful support for learning. Differentiation for the range of abilities in the class might be achieved by providing separate problems, graded to suit the ability of the particular students. Occasionally organising the students into small groups to work cooperatively on the solution of problems of appropriate difficulty would also be a way to provide greater variety in the studentsí experience of learning. It is urged, in as far as it is possible, that the drawings undertaken by the students have a link to their experience of the real world. It is best to apply various geometric constructions to the drawing of real-life objects such as tool handles, shampoo bottles or small items of electronic equipment such as video-game controllers, as soon as their underlying principles and drawing practice have been covered.
In a first-year lesson, the students were introduced to the construction of triangles of various types. To reinforce studentsí learning, taking the opportunity presented by the return of a few students who had not been present when a demonstration had been done previously, one student was asked to come to the blackboard to complete the construction of an equilateral triangle. This use of peer instruction was very effective.
The lessons visited were well structured and paced. In each case the purpose of the lesson was made clear at the outset. The lesson context was quickly established, usually by means of a quick revision of related work done in earlier lessons. There were established routines for the distribution and collection of drawing equipment in the TG lessons visited. Students followed these routines with a minimum of prompting, which allowed work to begin without delay. In TE, equivalent established procedures were followed at the beginning and end of the lesson ensuring efficient use of available teaching time. The establishment and maintenance of these routines are commended.
In each lesson, there was a clear coherent structure based on the introduction of new information and demonstration followed by student activity. In a third-year lesson in TE, students assembled and tested an electronic circuit, including a buzzer, an indicator light-emitting diode (LED), a switch and a resistor. Following an introduction, which skilfully revised the studentsí knowledge by means of careful questioning, the circuit diagram was assembled on the white board under student direction. This approach led to a high level of student involvement and provided a lively starting point for the practical work. The use of well-planned questioning by teachers in this and other lessons visited is commended. The students mounted their circuits on acrylic sheet which had been formed on the hot-wire bender in preparation for the lesson. As the students returned to their benches to undertake the assembly and soldering of their circuits, they were carefully monitored, encouraged, helped and affirmed by their teacher as he moved from bench to bench. Later demonstrations of processes such as the drilling of the acrylic to accept the switch and the LED housing also encouraged the studentsí engagement through questioning. The demonstrations were coherent, appropriately brief and effective. It is commended that circuit-modelling software was being installed on the school computers at the time of the inspection and it is commended that its use will add to studentsí interest in the design of such circuits in future.
In each of the lessons visited, students were secure and happily engaged in learning. The arrangements in place for studentsí deportment and behaviour were willingly accepted and followed. The atmosphere in each lesson was conducive to learning and benefited from the mutual respect and rapport that characterised all interactions, between students and teachers and between students themselves.
Some very good use was made of displays of studentsí work and other subject-related materials to provide learning surroundings of visual interest to fuel studentsí interest and learning. In particular in the TE room, a working arrangement of the gear train from a car gear box, mounted on wood, was further enhanced by a display of related, printed posters. This display provided an appropriate setting in which to study technology and practise its skills. To further improve the surroundings for the teaching of the technologies in the college, it is urged that the amount of subject-related materials in the TG room be increased. While it is acknowledged that the room is also used as a class base for the teaching of other subjects, the potential benefits to be gained by creating a physical environment to support an appropriate ambience for the learning of the subject is great.
Students were purposeful in their engagement with the activities of the lessons observed. In their responses to their teachersí questioning, and in response to the inspector, the students in the various classes in both subjects showed a level of understanding of concepts and facts that were consistent with their age and ability and it was clear that learning was taking place at an appropriate level. The students showed competence as they communicated effectively in the subjects and were enthusiastic in their engagement.
Students sit formal school examinations in TG and TE at Christmas and in summer as is the case in all subjects in the college. Those in third year, in preparation for Junior Certificate examinations, sit mock examinations in spring. The results of these examinations are entered in school reports for parents. Informal assessment of studentsí progress forms an integral part of each lesson in TG and TE as the teacher interacts with students on a one-to-one basis as they complete their work.
Homework is set and checked in both subjects, on a weekly basis in TG. This homework is checked and corrected. Completion of homework, studentsí attendance and test results are recorded in the teachersí diaries. These diaries are the vehicle for maintaining teachersí records and their use to record the outcome of each lesson is being developed. The importance of keeping complete records of studentsí progress is fundamental to ensuring effective learning. It is urged that these records include regular assessments of all work completed by students.
In TE student projects are a feature of each yearís work. In second year an end-of-year project counts for fifty percent of the summer test. This is good practice and is consistent with the assessment mode followed by the State Examinations Commission and in the syllabus. It is recommended that all project work in TE be assessed on its completion and that the marks generated be aggregated with Christmas and summer test results in each year as is the case in summer of second year. The regular communication of these assessment marks to students will provide a very valuable source of feedback to them. The anticipated impact of the assessments on a studentís expected result at the end of term will also provide either affirmation of the studentís progress or an incentive for greater effort as the case may be. It is urged that the teachers of TG also consider such a system of continuous assessment.
Studentsí progress is communicated to parents by means of examination reports, by entries in the studentís journal and at parent-teacher meetings.
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 teachers of Technical Graphics and Technology and with the principal following the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.