An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science
Killina Presentation Secondary School
Rahan, Tullamore, County Offaly
Roll number: 65630B
Date of inspection: 29 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Killina Presentation Secondary School, 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 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 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.
Junior Certificate Science is a core subject for first-year students. Science is one of a group of six subjects from which students choose four when beginning second year. Students are well supported in choosing their subjects with input from their teachers, fellow students, the guidance counsellor and their parents. Science is a popular choice and the number of students choosing it each year is very encouraging. All classes are of mixed ability.
Three class periods, in the form of one double and one single period, are allocated to first-year students. This is slightly below syllabus guidelines, and is due to the range and variety of subjects that first-year students study. All classes in second and third year are allocated four periods per week, in the form of one double and two single periods. This is within syllabus guidelines.
Following the Junior Certificate examination, students choose between Transition Year (TY) and the Leaving Certificate programme. Students who opt for TY receive one double period of Science each week and they study topics in Biology, Chemistry and Physics.
The choice to follow the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) is available to those students with an appropriate subject combination in senior cycle. The school is currently offering Biology, Chemistry and Physics as optional subjects to Leaving Certificate level. A “best-fit” model of subject options is created in order to accommodate as many students as possible once students have selected their choice subjects for senior cycle. Biology is the most popular of the science subjects and numbers are very encouraging. Biology classes are allocated five periods per week, in the form of one double and three single periods. This is within syllabus guidelines. All classes are of mixed ability.
There are six teachers of science subjects in the school and five of these teachers are currently teaching Science. Opportunities have been availed of to release teachers for continuing professional development during recent and current national in-service training programmes in Junior Certificate Science. Management is commended for its commitment to facilitating attendance at in-service training to date, and its support for teachers in joining the Irish Science Teachers’ Association.
There is one science laboratory in the school. It is in good condition, well equipped and adequate for its purpose. There is a storage and preparation room adjacent to the laboratory. The storage area is well stocked, well maintained and well ordered. Resources available to the science teachers include an overhead projector, a computer and data projector, a television, a DVD player and a video recorder. The laboratory is broadband enabled and has been fitted with eighteen network access points. The provision of such resources by management is commended. Planning is underway at present for the construction of a second laboratory.
Many science classes have weekly access to the laboratory although, due to the number of classes requiring access, not all science classes can be accommodated and some class groups may have less frequent access. Laboratory access for specific classes is timetabled in advance and, due to a combination of class allocation and teacher management, access to the laboratory has been maximised. A variety of posters and charts was observed on the laboratory walls, including student-generated work, creating an appropriate and stimulating learning environment. These displays should be changed, occasionally, in line with the topics being taught, to highlight students’ project work and to provide information on careers in the sciences.
A range of health and safety equipment was observed, including a first-aid kit, gas and electricity isolation switches and fire extinguishers. Active management of safety issues during student practical work was evident in one lesson observed, where students were alerted to potential hazards in their practical work. It is recommended that students wear safety goggles, and that a class set of white laboratory coats be made available for students when carrying out such work. The school has a health and safety statement that was drawn up a number of years ago. This statement should be reviewed as a matter of urgency. The science teachers should be involved in this review, where appropriate.
There is evidence of a strong sense of collegiality among the science teachers. While the teachers work as part of a team, there is not a formal science department in place. Frequent informal meetings of the science teachers take place and, together, they carry out all curriculum planning, stock control and laboratory management duties as a team. Formal meetings of the science teachers are also held, usually once each term, and records of all meetings are kept. The science teachers deserve credit for their level of cooperation. Funding for the purchase of resources for the sciences is provided as requested and teachers report that management has always been very supportive. It is recommended that a more structured science department be put in place to formalise and co-ordinate the excellent work already being done by the science teaches. A co-ordinator should be appointed, on a rotating basis, to oversee the work of the department and tasks such as stock control, ordering of equipment, convening and chairing meetings, and co-ordinating planning could then be delegated to individual members of the department. Further helpful advice is available on the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) website at www.sdpi.ie.
A common curricular plan for the three years of the Junior Certificate science course was presented. The focus of this planning document is on content and lists Biology, Chemistry and Physics topics for each term of the course. Some teachers further subdivided this list into weekly topics, and associated practical work. All teachers should carry out this good practice in order to facilitate the sourcing and preparation of resources. It is recommended that reference to the syllabus should also be included in the plans, as this is the primary document that describes the objectives, content and learning outcomes of the course being followed. The topics observed being taught in the classrooms were in line with the planning documents. The science teachers are to be congratulated for their work in the area of curriculum planning.
It is recommended that planning be extended, over time, to include differentiation, as all science classes are of mixed ability. Planning should also include the integration of information and communication technology (ICT) into teaching and learning. It is recommended that teaching methodologies should be included in planning documents so as to raise teachers’ consciousness of the variety of methodologies available to them and to ensure that teachers do not unwittingly restrict themselves to a preferred dominant style of teaching. Finally, it is recommended that the science department also begins to plan for assessment. Assessment objectives should be defined for the various tests and examinations held during the school year so that appropriate types of examinations can be administered.
There was evidence of short-term planning in all the lessons observed. Teachers were familiar with the subject matter of their lessons and there was a theme running through each lesson. Materials necessary for class and for student centred investigative work had been prepared in advance. This preparation contributed to the quality of learning and is praiseworthy.
Positive student behaviour was evident in all of the lessons observed. Student engagement with lessons was good at all times. Students responded readily to questioning and participated productively in the various activities undertaken during the lessons. The teachers taught with enthusiasm and generated an atmosphere that was inclusive, caring and challenging. There was evidence of differentiation in the manner in which lessons were conducted and all students were given an opportunity to achieve according to their abilities. The teachers had a high expectation of their students and were very affirming of their students’ efforts. Rapport with students was excellent. The teachers moved through the classroom assisting, examining and encouraging the students.
Teachers were very knowledgeable regarding their subject matter. Lessons proceeded at a suitable pace. The heart and circulation, ecology, acids and bases and flowers were among the topics covered during the lessons. Continuity from previous lessons was good and new information was well linked to previous learning. During the lessons the teachers used language that was appropriate to the needs of their students while maintaining the precision required by the subject matter. This is excellent practice.
A variety of methodologies was observed. These included student practical work, group work, questioning, and the use of ICT. The methodologies were seamlessly integrated into the lessons. There was appropriate use of handouts and student worksheets. Lessons were generally well structured and students were kept busy and actively engaged at all times. Best practice was seen where previous learning was reviewed, in order to set the stage for moving on. This review was followed by the presentation of new material, using appropriate methodologies, and students were provided with opportunities to put the new learning into practice, before a final summarising of the lesson and assignment of homework. In one lesson observed, ICT was effectively used by the teacher as a teaching tool, and by students to carry out an assignment. This is good practice. There was a good balance between active learning methodologies and teacher-centred presentations in most lessons.
Questioning of students was frequently used to check on levels of knowledge and understanding: this is commended. Best practice was seen where students were given time to formulate their answers and were encouraged to put up their hands before a respondent was chosen. Good use of questioning is also a useful tool for drawing out those students who would otherwise participate minimally in class. Questions ranged from the factual, testing recall, to questions of a higher order that were more challenging and encouraged students to think at a deeper level. All teachers are encouraged to give thought to their use of questioning as a methodology in order to enhance the quality of learning opportunities for students.
The practical work that was undertaken was efficiently organized and implemented. In one class visited, an excellent example of how to implement an investigative approach to student practical work was observed. This approach is highly commended. The students worked in groups of from two to six and demonstrated a mature approach to their work. It is important that students are briefed thoroughly before the practical work begins. Best practice was observed where the teacher facilitated plenary sessions before and after the experiment, thus ensuring that the students clearly understood the purpose of the practical work and had an opportunity to discuss and rationalize their findings afterwards. This is laudable.
Good practice concerning the minimal use of textbooks was apparent during the lessons. The homework given was appropriate to the lesson content, was varied as to type and was designed to assist the student in learning and understanding the topic in question.
In order for students to make better progress and to put class work in context, it is suggested that the learning goals be clearly outlined to students at the outset of each lesson. These goals should be concise and achievable. They can encourage a degree of self-assessment by students within the class and help individuals to monitor their own progress. They also provide a basis upon which the teacher can summarise the lesson content and the learning that should have taken place, at the end of the class period, and upon which homework can be given.
Students demonstrated a positive attitude towards Science as evidenced by the level of engagement and interest observed during the classes visited. Students displayed a very good level of knowledge, understanding and skills during interaction with the inspector. Formative assessment of student learning is carried out on an ongoing basis by questioning in class, through correction of homework and through the excellent level of teacher movement and observation of students during class that was noted by the inspector.
Students kept laboratory workbooks up to date as evidence of practical work being carried out. This is a very important aspect of new and revised syllabuses in the science area. While the quality of reporting in some of the workbooks was excellent, some others were of a lesser quality, and overall there was some variation. The level of attention that teachers gave to examining and correcting notebooks is uneven and it is recommended that all teachers check and annotate laboratory notebooks on a regular basis. This is an excellent means of encouraging students and of pointing the way towards improvement.
Formal assessments are held for non-certificate examination classes at Christmas and in the summer when common tests are administered to first-year and second-year students. Questions on mandatory practical work are included in these examinations. This is good practice. Certificate examination classes sit mock examinations in the spring. The students’ scripts are assessed externally. Additional testing is at the discretion of individual teachers. Records of assessment are held in teachers’ own diaries and in the school office.
Results of assessments and progress reports are communicated to parents by means of Christmas and summer reports for non-certificate examination classes, and Christmas and mock examinations reports in the case of third-year and sixth-year students. Communication with parents is achieved by means of parent-teacher meetings, held once per year for each class, and through parents’ nights where relevant. The student journal, which all students are required to keep, is also used to communicate with parents. The school operates an open door policy and parents are encouraged to contact the school if they have any concerns regarding their children’s performance.
There was evidence of good record keeping by teachers, covering such areas as student attendance, assessment records, work done and homework. This is good practice. The recorded information can be used to build up student profiles and can form the basis of very useful evidence in communicating student progress to parents and in advising both students and parents on subject choice at senior level and on the choice of examination levels in certificate examinations.
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 October 2008