An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Technical Graphics and Technical Drawing/Design and Communication Graphics
Mullingar Community College
Mullingar, County Westmeath
Roll number: 71450I
Date of inspection: 25 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in technical graphics and technical drawing/design and communication graphics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mullingar Community College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Technical Graphics and Technical Drawing/Design and Communication Graphics (DCG) 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 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.
Mullingar Community College offers a wide range of technology subjects to students. Technical Graphics, Metalwork and Materials Technology (Wood) are provided in the junior cycle, while at Leaving Certificate level the school offers Technical Drawing/DCG, Engineering and Construction Studies. In recent years the school received substantial grant aid from the Department in respect of these subjects. This aid was primarily to address health and safety issues in the subjects, but also to assist in the introduction and implementation of the new and revised syllabuses. DCG was introduced into the curriculum of Mullingar Community College in September 2007, as the replacement subject for Technical Drawing. It is clear that the grant provided to the school in respect of this subject, coupled with other funds generated by the school, has paid major dividends to support the development of the subject in the school. In particular, the grant has facilitated significant infrastructural developments that have facilitated the creation of a new DCG classroom. This classroom has excellent ICT facilities - eighteen modern computer work stations are installed, all of which are networked and fitted with the most up-to-date computer aided design (CAD) software. The room also boasts a fixed data projector and screen, an A3 colour printer and twenty new student drawing desks and associated drawing equipment. The room, however, has certain space restrictions which can cause problems when class groups of over twenty students are present in the room. Large classes, for example, make it difficult for the teacher to access some students at their desks. It is important, therefore, that the studentsí seating arrangements in lessons are carefully planned; those who find the subject most challenging, for example, should be seated in spaces that are easily accessible by the teacher.
A second classroom is also used for Technical Graphics. This room, however, is in a much poorer condition. While the blackboard and its associated drawing equipment are adequate, the studentsí drawing equipment is sub-standard. The student drawing desks, for example, are quite old while the T-squares available for student use are not conducive to the production of high quality technical drawings. Consideration should be given to replacing the floor covering in this classroom with a low maintenance covering, and new storage facilities should also be acquired. In addition, there are no ICT facilities in this classroom. It is recommended, as resources become available, that this classroom be refurbished and upgraded.
At the time of the inspection the health and safety grant issued in respect of the materials-based technology workshops in the school had not been used to address any health and safety matters. While it is acknowledged that its application was under active consideration a significant time period had lapsed since the grant was issued. The equipment, machinery and hand tools in the Metalwork/Engineering workshops in particular are in need of attention, while enhanced housekeeping in general across all of the workshops would contribute to the creation of a cleaner, safer and more stimulating and motivating teaching and learning environment. Such housekeeping should incorporate a system that prioritises the maintenance of equipment and machinery in good working order. It is recommended that every effort be made to ensure that the health and safety grant is put to effective use as quickly as possible. It is important that the full grant amount is directed at the technology subject areas. Further, it is important to ensure that there is an appropriate match at all times between what the content of the schoolís health and safety statement in respect of the technology subjects and the health and safety standards that apply in the workshops.
Currently, there are four qualified teachers of Technical Graphics and Technical Drawing/DCG on the staff. Only two, however, are currently involved in teaching the subjects. These teachers currently teach the subjects at higher and ordinary levels at both Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate level. This is commendable as it helps to maintain and enrich the level of teaching expertise available in the subjects. In order to maintain this expertise into the future it would be important for all teachers qualified in the area to be at least provided with the opportunity to teach the subjects. Teachers retain their classes from year to year as the studentsí progress through the junior and senior cycles. This is good practice as it provides continuity in the subjects for students.
Students decide on whether or not to study Technical Graphics prior to entry into first year. The school prospectus and the advice provided by the schoolís guidance counsellor, as well as subject teachers, constitutes the main supports provided by the school to assist students and their parents in making decisions about optional subjects for the junior cycle. Thereafter, subject choice decisions are monitored, and there is scope for modification throughout the course of a studentís first year in the school if necessary. It was also reported that work has commenced on the production of a DVD to provide parents and students with more detailed information on all of the junior cycle optional subjects. This will assist parents and students even further in making decisions regarding these subjects. This work is commended. In the interest of promoting a more student-centred approach to the subject choice arrangements at this level consideration could be given to reintroducing a taster course system which would allow students the opportunity to experience all of the optional subjects prior to making subject choice decisions. While it is acknowledged that a taster system was operated in the school in the past, it is felt that a differently operated system would now be advantageous in supporting students to make informed subject choices.
There has been a noticeable decrease in the take-up of Technical Graphics among first year students over the last number of years. Currently, for example, there is one class group studying the subject in first year which represents approximately 17% of the total cohort of students in that year. There are two class groups in each of second and third year studying the subject which represents some 31% and 46% of the total cohort of students in those two years respectively. It was reported that this trend was partly due to changes in the timetabling blocking arrangements for the subject that were introduced recently. Teachers, however, also reported noticing a renewed interest in the subject area since the introduction of DCG in September 2007, and expressed the view that the numbers opting for the subject at junior cycle level could very well increase as a result over the coming years. It is important, therefore, that teachers should now plan appropriately for such an eventuality. Currently, first year students are provided with two double lesson periods each week in the subject. Each of these lessons is of 70-80 minutes duration. Second and third year students are provided with one double lesson of 70-80 minutes duration each week, along with two single lesson periods of 35-40 minutes duration each. This level of provision across the junior cycle is in keeping with good practice and there is a good balance between single and double lesson periods. The provision of double lesson periods is particularly good practice as there is a significant practical component associated with the subject.
Currently, there is one class group in each of the two years of the Leaving Certificate studying Technical Drawing/DCG. Class sizes at this level are small, usually fluctuating around the low teens or smaller. It was reported that classes of this size at this level have been the case for many years. Class groups at this level are provided with five 35-40 minute lesson periods in the subject each week. Again, there is an appropriate balance between single and double lesson periods in this provision. Currently, Technical Drawing/DCG is timetabled opposite Engineering and Home Economics in both years of the Leaving Certificate. This particular timetabling arrangement precludes students from studying a combination of Technical Drawing/DCG and Engineering. There are many benefits to be gained, particularly from the studentís perspective, by offering them this subject combination. These subjects complement one another in that they provide significant opportunities for cross-curricular work hence providing students with a broader range of valuable learning experiences. Furthermore, the technologies could well be an area of learning in which some students succeed particularly well and being able to study only one of these subjects could lead to a stifling of their talents and abilities. †Finally, the study of only one of these subjects could also have the effect of limiting studentsí career opportunities in the engineering or technology professions in later life. It is therefore recommended that consideration be given to revising the subjectís timetable blocking arrangement at this level.
The majority of students studying Technical Graphics and Technical Drawing/DCG are boys. Currently, only seven girls out of the 142 girls currently enrolled in the schoolís Junior and Leaving Certificate programmes study the subjects. There is opportunity therefore for further promotion of the subjects among female students. While the proposed DVD production will help to promote the subjects, consideration could also be given to erecting displays of studentsí work both inside and outside of the classrooms. Such displays can provide those students whose work is displayed with a sense of fulfilment and achievement while simultaneously providing those who donít study the subjects, and others, with a greater knowledge of the subjects. Consideration should also be given to holding parent-teacher meetings in the new DCG classroom. This would provide parents with good insights into the nature of the subjects.
School management both facilitates and encourages teachers to engage with relevant professional development. Most recently all four teachers have engaged with training provided by T4 (the Technology Subjects Support Service). Indeed, some teachers have engaged with additional training in their own personal time. This is commendable and is a testament to the commitment and dedication of the teachers concerned to their subject. Most teachers are members of a relevant professional association. Such involvement is encouraged by the school and clearly helps teachers to keep well abreast of developments in their subject area.
All of the technology subjects offered in Mullingar Community College, including Technical Graphics and Technical Drawing/DCG, have recently been established on a formal basis as a subject department. This is good practice as there are many commonalities between the different technology subjects. A subject convenor has been appointed and was instrumental is the setting up of the new DCG classroom. To enhance further development of both the subject department and the different technology subjects it is suggested that a clear role for the subject convenor be devised. It is also suggested that this position should rotate on a bi-annual or tri-annual basis. This practice would eventually provide all relevant teachers with experience of subject planning and coordination and so enrich the expertise available within the department.
Teachers meet regularly and have a tradition of sharing teaching and learning resources. While management has facilitated a number of planning meetings to date most tend to take place on an informal basis. Records are kept of formal meetings held, which is good practice. These should be shared with management following each meeting as it is an effective way of keeping management informed of developments in the subject area. Issues discussed at meetings include equipment and materials, examinations, health and safety issues and workshop developments. There is scope for future meetings to include a focus on issues pertaining to teaching and learning, including classroom management techniques and teaching methodologies. The subject is well resourced in terms of consumables and while there is no formal budget in place for the subject area large items of equipment and resources will generally be acquired on a needs basis.
A subject plan was developed recently. This plan was informed by the school development planning initiative (SDPI) which is good practice. Some sections, however, would benefit from more detail such as those that refer to homework, assessment procedures and long-term planning. While the subject plan contains some information on long-term planning for the subject, teachers have also developed individual schemes of work. Consideration should be given in the future to developing common schemes of work for the junior and senior cycles. Given that the plan is relatively new there has been no opportunity yet to evaluate or review it. It is important that the plan would be monitored on an ongoing basis and evaluated and reviewed at regular intervals. It was reported by teachers that priority would be given to developing the senior cycle section of the plan during its first review. This is encouraged.
From discussions with teachers and students, and from observation of lessons, it was clear that teachers were acutely aware of those students with special educational needs in their classes. Concern, however, was expressed regarding the function and integration of special needs assistants (SNAs) in graphics/drawing lessons, indeed in all technology subject lessons. A policy should be developed regarding the function and integration of SNAs in lessons with a view to achieving maximum impact for the quality of teaching and learning in lessons. This should be developed collaboratively by management personnel, teachers, SNAs and other relevant stakeholders. The outcome should be included in the subject plan.
Most class groups use textbooks, with some teachers keeping a small supply of textbooks for use in their classrooms. This is commendable as it ensures that students will always have access to a textbook when necessary. The textbook is supplemented regularly by handouts and workbooks and, in the case of examination classes, students use books of past examination papers. Teachers could consider developing a Technical Graphics/Drawing library of resources to which students would have access.
A sample of Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate lessons were visited during the inspection. While the class register was checked in each of the lessons visited, which is good practice, considerable levels of absenteeism were noted in some cases. It was obvious that students had an established routine with regard to entering classrooms and setting themselves up for a lesson in graphics/drawing. Given the lack of circulation space in the new DCG classroom, however, it would be worth considering assigning the task of distributing drawing equipment such as T-squares, drawing sheets and portfolios to only one or two students. Indeed, this practice could be applied across both of the classrooms used for teaching the subjects.
Each of the lessons visited was carefully planned and prepared in advance. The subject matter of the lessons, for example, was carefully chosen and teaching materials had also been produced or prepared for use with the students. These included models, handouts and computer generated presentations. Handouts varied from photocopies of pages from textbooks to teacher generated handouts, with the latter type of handouts in particular proving to be more effective in lessons. When using handouts as central learning support material in lessons it is important to ensure that all students have access to the material. A system applies in some lessons whereby students either return handouts to their teacher at the conclusion of lessons, or they store them in their own portfolios. A similar system should be replicated across all lessons.
The most frequently observed teaching method in the different lessons visited involved the teacher constructing drawings on the blackboard or screen using either conventional or ICT drawing methods, and permeating their construction with explanations of the steps involved. The blackboard was used effectively where conventional methods were used. Technical drawing instruments, coloured chalk and indexing of points were regularly used for clarity which promoted student learning. Freehand sketching techniques were sometimes used on the board also as a quick means of illustrating difficult concepts and this worked particularly well as a means of developing studentsí visual-spatial reasoning. From the observation of studentsí work, however, it was clear that students would benefit from developing their own freehand sketching techniques further. It is recommended, therefore, that opportunities be taken in lessons at appropriate times to promote the development of this skill among students. There was excellent integration of ICT in the teaching and learning of the subject in the new DCG classroom. The large screen was used effectively by the teacher to demonstrate different drawing commands and techniques, and each student had access to their own computer. A student-to-computer ration of 1:1 promoted the concept of learning by doing, discovery learning took place in abundance and students were happy to learn from one another. There is scope therefore, however, to promote this latter learning style even more in DCG lessons.
The teacher explanations which accompanied the construction of drawings on the blackboard or screen had a significant impact on the quality of learning that took place in lessons. Explanations that were appropriately paced and which used language that was pitched at a suitable level promoted quality learning. Key words and terminology were highlighted and described as part of some explanations and this reaped benefits also for the quality of student learning. While effective questioning techniques were utilised in some lessons to ascertain studentsí levels of understanding there is opportunity for greater use of higher-order questions across lessons. In general, all students were given adequate time to reflect before answering questions posed and were effectively affirmed for any correct answers given. Students were also given sufficient time to ask questions. While questions were directed at individual students as opposed to the entire class group, care needs to be taken to ensure that all students are included in this process.
Teacher movement around the classroom in some lessons was effective to ensure that students were on task and engaged in lesson activities. Opportunities were regularly taken at such times to provide individual tuition in a discrete manner. Care should be taken, however, to ensure that such tuition is targeted appropriately.
The importance of the basic rules of graphics should be regularly reinforced for students, particularly at junior cycle level. Their application can sometimes be the difference between a high and lesser quality drawing, for example, correct positioning of the drawing sheet on the drawing board, correct use of the T-square and set-squares, correct instrument and pencil types and conditions, as well as printing and indexing. These can contribute to the sustained production by students of neat and tidy drawings.
In the senior-cycle lessons observed there was always good teacher-student and student-student rapport with the effect that discipline was sensitively maintained throughout. Some junior-cycle classes, however, called for extra vigilance on the part of the teacher in order to maintain discipline. Classroom rules and responsibilities should be clearly established across the subjects and, where necessary, they should be applied in a firm but fair manner. It is important also that classroom teachers are supported fully by the whole school in exercising their classroom- management skills.
All classes sit mid-term and Christmas examinations annually. Examination classes sit mock examinations while non-exam classes sit summer tests. In all cases reports are sent home. Parent-teacher meetings, of which there is one annually for each class group, and the student journal, are also used as principal methods of communicating with studentsí homes. From examination of a sample of studentsí journals, however, it would appear that more opportunities should be taken to promote the journal further as a two-way means of communication between the school and studentsí homes.
In the case of Technical Graphics and Technical Drawing/DCG it was reported that formal assessments are supported by continuous assessment techniques which include oral questioning and monitoring of studentsí drawings during lessons. A sample of studentsí Technical Graphics portfolios was examined. Many of those examined were in a poor condition; there was significant wear and tear on the portfolios themselves and on studentsí drawing sheets and instruments. This was due in part to the erratic storage procedures that applied. Further, a significant number of incorrect and incomplete drawings were found in some portfolios, as well as drawings that had been constructed using inappropriate drawing instruments. There was also considerable variation between the amounts of work contained in the different portfolios examined. The student drawing portfolio system currently in operation across the subject area needs to be urgently reviewed. Portfolios should be carefully stored in classrooms, for example, with provision made for students to take them home for study or revision purposes at appropriate times. Teachers should also subject portfolios to regular monitoring. This monitoring should take cognisance of, among others, whether drawing sheet space has been utilised effectively, whether incomplete drawings have been entered into portfolios, whether drawings are correct, neat and accurate and whether the correct type of drawing instruments have been used to construct drawings. Students should receive feedback on the monitoring of their portfolios and the process should be used to evaluate and modify teaching strategies as appropriate. A certain percentage (for example, 20-30%) could be allocated to drawing portfolios when arriving at a final grade for studentsí mid-term, Christmas and summer tests. This arrangement would reward students for their work all year round and would further encourage them to keep their portfolios in good order.
Homework was observed being allocated and checked in some of the lessons visited. However, from observation of studentsí journals it was clear that homework is allocated only sporadically in some lessons or that students donít always record their homework into their journals. It was reported in the case of one class group that homework is not allocated at all. Homework supports the work students do in school and is an important part of the learning process. It is important, therefore, that homework is allocated, collected and corrected regularly, that students receive timely feedback on such work and that its completion or otherwise is recorded. In the case of those classes that find homework challenging there may be opportunity to explore allocating non-traditional forms of homework such as research or model building.
For the most part student learning outcomes, as evidenced for example in studentsí examination results, are appropriate to the ability levels of the students. Some results, however, would indicate that students could well have the potential to achieve at a higher-level. This should be encouraged by teachers where applicable. It was reported that management and teachers analyse the state examination results achieved in the subject area each year and that these are available to all staff members. This is commended.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
The new DCG classroom is a major asset to the subject area in the school. It is an exceptionally well equipped classroom and indications are that it will encourage increased take-up of the subject in the years ahead.
Work has commenced in the school on the production of a DVD to provide parents and students with detailed information on all of the junior cycle optional subjects, including Technical Graphics. This will assist parents and students even further in making decisions regarding optional subjects. This work is commended.
The level of provision in the subjects across both the junior and senior cycles is in keeping with best practice, and there is a good balance between single and double lesson periods in this provision.
The level of engagement by teachers with professional development in recent times, all facilitated and encouraged by management, is commendable.
All of the technology subjects in the school now operate as a formal subject department. A subject convenor is in place, teachers meet regularly on a formal basis, appropriate records are kept and a subject plan is in place. These are all good practices.
Each of the lessons visited was carefully planned and prepared in advance.
There was excellent integration of ICT in the teaching and learning of the subject in the new DCG classroom. A student-to-computer ratio of 1:1 promotes the concept of learning by doing in this classroom; discovery learning takes place in abundance and students learn easily from one another.
Management and teachers analyse the state examination results achieved in the subject area each year and that these are made available to staff members. This is commended.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
The health and safety grant in the case of the materials-based technology subjects should be put to effective use as quickly as possible. Further, as resources become available, the schoolís second Technical Graphics and Technical Drawing/DCG classroom should be refurbished and provided with ICT.
Consideration should be given to revising the timetabling blocking arrangement for Technical Drawing/DCG so as to provide students with the opportunity of studying the subject in combination with Engineering.
Subject department planning meetings should focus more on issues pertaining to teaching and learning, including classroom management techniques and teaching methods.
Care should be taken during lessons to ensure that individual tuition is appropriately targeted. Explanations of difficult concepts should be appropriately paced and use language that is pitched at a suitable level. Key words and terminology should be highlighted where necessary and greater use should be made of higher-order questioning techniques. Further, the importance of the basic rules of graphics should be regularly reinforced for students.
A policy should be developed regarding the function and integration of SNAs in lessons with a view to achieving maximum benefit for teaching and learning. This should be developed by management personnel, teachers, SNAs and other relevant stakeholders in a collaborative manner.
Studentsí drawing portfolios should be carefully monitored. Further, a certain percentage could be allocated to the portfolios when arriving at a final grade for studentsí examinations.
Homework should be allocated, collected and corrected regularly; students should receive timely feedback on such work and its completion or otherwise should be recorded.
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the school principal and teachers of Technical Graphics and Technical Drawing/DCG together at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published October 2008