An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood)
Sexton Street, Limerick
Roll number: 64200R
Date of inspection: 26 September 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood)
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Mhichíl, Sexton Street, Limerick. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood) and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of these subjects in the school. The evaluation was conducted over one day 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 the subject teachers.
Coláiste Mhichíl, a Christian Brothers’ secondary school, continues a long tradition of providing for the education of the boys of Limerick City and its environs. The curriculum of the school includes a range of technology subjects including Technical Graphics (TG) and Technology in junior cycle and Design and Communication Graphics (DCG) in senior cycle together with the focus subjects of this inspection report, Construction Studies (CS) and Materials Technology (Wood) (MTW). Management is commended for providing this range of technology subjects. The intention to increase the provision of technologies in senior cycle by the addition of Technology is welcomed.
It is the practice in Coláiste Mhichíl to provide time, several times each year, for subject-department planning meetings. In the technologies, these meetings include teachers of CS, MTW, TG and DCG. A convener is identified and records are kept of the outcomes of the meetings. This support for collaborative planning in the subjects is commended. It is urged that Technology be included in this subject-department planning arrangement to take full advantage of the input from the teachers of all the technology subjects in the school, thus developing a subject department of the technologies.
The increased opportunities for continuing professional development (CPD) provided under the auspices of the technology subjects support service, T4, are of significant value to all teachers of MTW and CS, particularly in supporting the development of skills in three-dimensional computer-aided design (CAD). The management of Coláiste Mhichíl is commended for its support and encouragement of teachers’ involvement in this CPD programme. It is strongly urged that the teachers of MTW and CS take full advantage of the CPD programme in order to provide for the introduction of CAD to the full range of technology subjects.
In junior cycle, MTW is allocated four periods per week. This time allocation is presented as one double-period lesson and two single-period lessons and in the case of one class in first year as two double-period lessons. Such an allocation of teaching time is sufficient to complete the syllabus and the provision of double periods facilitates the effective teaching of the practical elements of the course.
The time allocated to CS in senior cycle is generally five periods, incorporating one double-period lesson. This time allocation is sufficient for completion of the syllabus over the two years of Leaving Certificate. In the case of two classes in fifth year, however, just four periods per week are allocated. This allocation is less than optimal and management is urged to increase it to five periods, in line with the usual allocation. The provision of a double-period lesson for each class facilitates the completion of practical work and this is consistent with good practice.
There are two woodwork rooms in Coláiste Mhichíl. The larger of these rooms is used for the teaching of CS and the other predominantly for MTW. Both rooms were admirably neat, tidy and well organised at the time of the inspection. Tools were displayed and easily accessible on purpose-made racks. This arrangement also provides a commendably tactful and easily implemented means of checking equipment at the end of lessons. The supply of tools and equipment was generally sufficient for the numbers of students in the various classes. In the case of the MTW room, it is advised that the number of rulers be increased to avoid students having to share. One suitably self-contained area of the CS room is used for teaching drawing and theory. Provision in this area included racks for technical drawing instruments which had similar benefits to the tool racks regarding ease of access and security. The teachers of MTW and CS, together with management, are commended for the provision and maintenance of these physical resources, appropriate for the teaching of the subjects.
Management 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 to cover the recurring costs of materials and consumables. In the context of developing robust and active subject-department planning structures and practices, such budgeting would provide opportunities for the subject-teaching team to discuss and agree on priorities for expenditure which would also provide an incentive for care in planning for materials.
The study of MTW in junior cycle is limited to two class groups in first year and one class group in third year. Second-year students do not have the opportunity to choose MTW, although they are provided with the choice of studying TE or TG. While most junior cycle students study a technology subject, the subject provided is not determined by students’ preferences but rather by the assignment of students to classes. Given the importance of providing for the realisation of students’ preferences in subject choice, in as far as this is feasible, it is recommended that a system of subject-option groups be developed to provide for the possibility of each student choosing his optional subjects in junior cycle, possibly including MTW.
In senior cycle, the subject-option bands are determined following interviews which the guidance counsellor conducts with the students in third year. These subject groupings are designed to provide a curricular range accommodating the different abilities and aptitudes of the students. CS appears in two of the four subject-option groups in fifth year, with two concurrent classes in one group. There are two concurrent classes of CS in one of the four subject-option groups in sixth year. This is commendable provision for the subject, reflecting the high level of interest among the students.
While junior cycle students are supported in making subject choices on entering the school by means of an open night, parents’ information night and the advice of the guidance counsellor, there is very limited subject choice within the technology subjects consisting of a choice between Technology (TE) and Technical Graphics (TG) in second year. Whether students study MTW is determined by their assignment to classes on the basis of tests administered on entry.
Students are supported in their choosing of subjects for fifth year by means of timetabled classes with the guidance counsellor and information given to students which is shared with their parents. Individual advice and support are provided through individual appointments made with the guidance counsellor. Given the great potential of personal experience in informing subject choice, it is recommended that management consider the inclusion of CS in Transition Year as a support for the students deciding their preferences for further study in senior cycle and beyond.
In addition to formal subject-planning meetings, the teaching team of MTW and CS also undertakes a large amount of such planning at a less formal level. The team is commended for its active participation in this. It is recommended, to improve further on this, that a slightly more formal approach be taken to such opportunities and to the recording of outcomes in a suitably concise and time-efficient way, perhaps as bulleted lists of decisions and actions to be taken.
The subject planning documents drawn up for each year in MTW and CS each include a programme of work and notes on the aims of the programme, the teaching resources to be used, assessment, objectives for the year and any other points to be noted. These documents, based on a consistent template, present evidence of the progress made in the development of subject department planning in MTW and CS which is affirmed. To further enhance this development it is recommended that details of the teaching methodologies, strategies and approaches which have been found most effective in teaching the various elements of the programmes of work be included. Particular consideration should be given to the most effective approaches to the teaching of design and theory to promote active student involvement. While the programmes of work being followed are broadly in line with the MTW syllabus, the central position given to student project design should continue to be considered when planning the teaching strategies to be adopted for its practical elements. Sources for the methodologies and strategies to be adopted include the teachers’ own considerable professional experience, the CPD for the technology subjects and the broader community of teachers of MTW and CS.
The planning and preparation for the lessons observed in the course of the inspection were consistent with very good practice. Preparation variously included the provision of a wide range of sample materials where these were of benefit and the preparation of working drawings by students in advance, in addition to the preparation of the materials and equipment needed for the respective lessons.
Despite the streaming of junior cycle classes, students in these classes have a range of strengths, abilities and educational needs. Excellent opportunities for differentiation of the work undertaken by students are provided by MTW, particularly in the area of student project design. It is recommended that projects be tailored, based on suitably supported input from individual students, to allow students to undertake challenging work at their own individual levels. At an early stage this might involve students in deciding the number, size and position of trenches in a project such as a model ship or the amount and level of difficulty of decorative work to be done on a project.
Given the common challenges faced by the teachers of all the technologies and the wealth and diversity of teaching experience which they share, it is urged that opportunities be sought for the teachers of TE, TG and DCG as well as the teachers of MTW and CS to plan for the identification, development and inclusion of the most suitable teaching methodologies, strategies and approaches for their subjects.
The teachers of MTW and CS make use of laptop computers and the data projector to enhance teaching of the subjects. Preparations were being made at the time of the inspection for a major increase in the level of ICT use in the technologies with the introduction of hardware and software to support the teaching of the DCG syllabus and the technologies in general. These resources are being deployed in the DCG classroom and the teachers are familiarising themselves with the SolidWorks software in advance of its introduction. The progress being made in this is commended. It is recommended that arrangements be made to provide access to SolidWorks for all students of MTW and CS and that they be supported and encouraged in the use of the package, in particular in their design work. It is recommended that the teachers of the subjects continue to avail of all opportunities for CPD in SolidWorks to support them in their introduction of this package to their students.
It was clear in the woodwork rooms that there was a commendable awareness of health and safety. Safe operational areas were demarcated around the main woodworking machines and electricity isolation lock-down switches were in place together with fire extinguishers and first-aid kits. Students placed their school bags in the designated place adjacent to the MTW room to avoid a possible trip hazard. To further improve the impact of the arrangements in place to ensure a healthy and safe working environment, particularly in the educational context, it is recommended that standard, colour-coded signs be placed at each machine indicating the mandatory use of personal protection equipment (PPE). It is also urged that notices listing the procedures and precautions to be adopted for the safe use of each machine be displayed adjacent to the particular machine. These notices will be a constant reminder to the students of the instructions given when they were first introduced to the use of the machine. It is further recommended that the commended practice of demarcating safe operational areas around machines be extended to include all fixed machines. It is urged that a concise explanatory notice be displayed to ensure that students continue to be aware of the rationale for marking safe operational areas and the implications for movement and behaviour when the machines are being used. It is recommended that the behaviour rules for the woodwork rooms be clearly displayed.
The lessons visited were well paced and coherently structured. Quick revision of work done previously often provided a very effective means of ensuring students’ involvement, and an opportunity for skilled questioning. In this way the purpose of the lesson was clarified at the outset.
The teaching methodologies adopted were appropriate to the abilities, needs and interests of the students. In most instances the approach used in practical lessons involved demonstration of work by the teacher followed by the students completing this work on their own pieces while their progress was closely monitored by the teacher who provided affirmation, help and encouragement as needed. In one first-year MTW lesson in which students worked on trenching, the marking out, sawing and removal of waste were clearly demonstrated in five separate teacher demonstrations which were well paced and presented at appropriate intervals in the course of the lesson. Students were provided with sufficient time to complete each stage of the work while being presented with an appropriate level of challenge. Commendable use of peer demonstration of some skills previously taught, sawing to the line in the case of the trenching lesson, encouraged students’ involvement and added greatly to their interest.
While the use of whole-class demonstration was effective in the first-year setting at the time of year of the inspection, it is urged that smaller-group demonstration be used appropriately as the students progress. Working with smaller groups can provide opportunities to differentiate allowing the demonstration to suit the varying abilities and learning styles of the students. It is also urged that the project work undertaken, particularly in MTW, is varied to reflect the abilities of individual students and that these students are supported and encouraged to design elements of the projects being realised, in keeping with their individual abilities. The integration of elements of theory, specifically the design principles and construction of tools such as the marking gauge and mortise gauge, into the practical lessons observed is commended.
There was very good practice observed in the appropriate use of questioning in a senior cycle building drawing and theory lesson. The use of a range of actual building components and a very appropriate scaled model of an eaves detail provided excellent support for students to understand, interpret and answer the teacher’s questions. Whenever possible, students were encouraged to suggest the correct relationship between components, and the dimensions and characteristics of the particular components, by reference to the model and the samples provided. As each element of the building section was investigated and explained, the students were given the opportunity to draw that element. Thus the sectional eaves detail was completed by the students while they were at all times fully in touch with the reality of what they were drawing. This strategy is commended. As the lesson progressed the teacher completed the drawing on a transparency on the overhead projector. This was very effective as a means of affirming the students’ progress and maintaining the focus of the class.
Students worked in an ordered and disciplined way in the lessons visited. Expectations of good behaviour were clear and accepted by the students. Learning activities were managed effectively with students working at their assigned places. Interactions between teachers and students and among students themselves were characterised by mutual respect and co-operation. Students’ efforts were affirmed and encouraged by their teachers. There were commendable displays both of students’ work and of other subject-related materials in both woodwork rooms which helped, together with the positive interaction, to create an atmosphere conducive to learning.
Students engaged fully with the work being undertaken in each of the lessons visited. In speaking to the inspector, they displayed levels of knowledge and understanding of concepts and facts relevant to the respective lessons consistent with their age and ability. The students’ communication in MTW and CS was effective and they showed enthusiasm and curiosity for the subjects. The practical woodwork and drawing skills which the students had developed were consistent with effective learning taking place. The MTW and CS teaching team is commended for its role in guiding their students in the development of these skills.
Formal examinations are set at Christmas and in summer. There are mid-term tests and mock examinations, marked externally, which students preparing for State examinations sit in third year and sixth year.
In addition to these modes of assessment, the work of students studying MTW and CS is regularly assessed. The variety of continuous assessments used is commended. In CS there are end-of-topic tests and short examinations at monthly intervals. In MTW, topic tests are set in theory and each project is assessed on completion. It is recommended that the marks awarded through continuous assessment, particularly the assessment of students’ design-project work, be combined with term examination marks to generate term results. This practice would be consistent with the assessment modes of the respective syllabuses, which each provide for the inclusion of students’ project work. It is further recommended that the subject department of the technologies, referred to in the first section of this report, consider and agree a common system of aggregating project assessments and examination results. A common system of assessment of this kind would help to raise the profile of the technologies among the students and, with regular feedback, would serve to affirm the progress being made by them or encourage them to greater effort as appropriate.
Informal assessment of students’ progress formed an integral part of each of the lessons observed as the teacher interacted with students on a one-to-one basis while they completed their work. This is very good practice.
The results of all assessments are carefully recorded by the respective teachers and shared with parents at parent-teacher meetings. This is good practice. The students’ progress is also conveyed to parents by means of school reports and in the students’ journals. The latter provides a valuable channel for communication of continuous assessment marks.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Management is commended for the quality of its provision for the subjects in terms of materials, equipment and other resources.
· The level of provision for Construction Studies in the subject-option groups in senior cycle, reflecting the high level of interest among the students, is commended.
· The progress made in the development of subject department planning in Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood) is affirmed.
· It was clear in the woodwork rooms that there was a commendable awareness of health and safety.
· Teaching strategies adopted, including the commendable use of peer demonstration of skills taught previously, encouraged students’ involvement and added greatly to their interest.
· The use of a range of actual building components and a very appropriate scaled model of an eaves detail provided excellent support for students to understand, interpret and answer the teacher’s questions.
· The variety of modes of continuous assessment used in Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood) is commended.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is urged that Technology be included in this subject-department planning arrangement to take full advantage of the input from the teachers of all the technology subjects in the school, thus developing a subject department of the technologies.
· It is recommended that a system of subject-option groups be developed to provide for the possibility of each student choosing his optional subjects in junior cycle, possibly including MTW.
· It is suggested that consideration be given to the advantages of formalising an annual budget to cover the recurring costs of materials and consumables so as to provide opportunities for the subject-teaching team to discuss and agree on priorities for expenditure which would provide an incentive for care in planning for materials.
· To further enhance the development of the subject plan, it is recommended that it include details of the teaching methodologies, strategies and approaches which have been found most effective in teaching the various elements of the programmes of work already drawn up.
· It is recommended that the marks awarded through continuous assessment, particularly the assessment of students’ design-project work, be combined with term examination marks to generate term results and that the subject department of the technologies consider and agree a common system of combining marks to be used in each of the technologies.
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the teachers of Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood) and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.