An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of
Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies
Roll number: 91508C
Date of inspection: 21 October 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in materials technology (wood) and construction studies
Subject inspection report
This report has been written following a subject
Subject provision and whole school support
Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies
are optional in
The times allocated to the teaching of Materials Technology (Wood) and of Construction Studies in the school are appropriate. A combination of double and single class periods is allocated to both subjects and this is good practice.
The school organises information evenings for first and third-year students and their parents in advance of making subject choices. Additional support is provided by subject teachers and the guidance counsellor. These arrangements are commended.
Materials Technology (Wood) is offered to in-coming first-year students as part of a one-month 'taster' programme of optional subjects. Following the 'taster' programme students can choose to study the subject for the remainder of junior cycle by nominating it as one of their three preferred options. Students entering senior cycle also prioritise their choices of optional subjects. Then, bands designed to accommodate students' choices are generated and operated. These arrangements represent good practice.
All Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies classes are of mixed ability and students are encouraged to take certificate examinations at the level most appropriate to their abilities. While junior-cycle Materials Technology (Wood) classes comprise males and females, approximately proportionate to the numbers of males and females in the school, only a small number of females are currently studying Construction Studies in senior cycle. It is recommended that ways to encourage and facilitate more females to study the subjects, particularly Construction Studies, should be explored by the school.
Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies are taught in two, adjacent, relatively small woodwork rooms. Both rooms are well maintained and decorated. High quality teacher-made charts of woodworking tools and jointing techniques are displayed in both rooms and these are complemented by displays of other Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies related charts, safety signage and examples of students' practical, project and drawn work. Both woodwork rooms provide stimulating visual learning environments for students of the subjects and this is commended.
Although relatively new, the roofs in both woodwork rooms have developed a number of leaks, some in areas close to machines where they constitute particular health and safety hazards for teachers and students. Senior management is acutely aware of the hazards posed by these leaks and is actively pursuing measures to ensure that this problem is eradicated as a priority.
While both woodwork rooms are suitable for the delivery of programmes in the subjects and are generally well-resourced with materials, machines, portable power tools and hand tools there are deficiencies in the provision of full sets of some essential hand tools. These deficiencies serve to restrict the progress of whole-class practical activities in the delivery of the Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies syllabuses. In order to ensure that practical and project work can proceed simultaneously for all students in all class groups, full sets of all essential hand tools should be provided as a priority.
Access to appropriate computer hardware and drawing software is provided in both woodwork rooms. The school's design and communication graphics (DCG) room is very well equipped and designed and it can be accessed by Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies classes when required. The use of information and communications technology (ICT) in teaching and learning of the subjects is actively promoted within the subject department. This level of provision of ICT resources and of commitment to the use of ICT in teaching and learning in the subjects is commended.
Senior management encourages and facilitates teachers' engagement in continuing professional development (CPD). Over the last two years Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies teachers have attended extensive subject-specific in-service provided by the Technology Subjects Support Service (T4) and teachers share good practice within the subject department. These commitments of senior management and of the teaching staff to continuing professional development deserve particular acknowledgement.
The school has a safety statement and the woodwork rooms are specifically referred to in it. A safety audit was conducted in both woodwork rooms during the current year and this is commended. A number of issues, including the roof leaks and the sizes of the rooms referred to above, were identified as requiring attention in the audit. It is recommended that the Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post-primary Schools be used as a reference document when addressing these and all other issues related to health and safety practices and procedures in the woodwork rooms.
Planning and preparation
Comprehensive subject planning documentation has been developed collaboratively by the teachers of Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies. The work to date is of high quality and this approach to planning is in keeping with good practice.
An extensive range of resources for Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies has been developed by teachers. These resources are used by teachers to support teaching and learning in the classrooms. To date, the teachers have invested significant time and effort in this worthwhile work.
Additional resources to support teaching and learning can be accessed, when required, following consultation with the principal. This arrangement is reported to work effectively in the school.
The teachers of Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies liaise with the learning support team when planning for students in their classes who have additional educational needs. This type of collaboration is important in ensuring that lessons are as inclusive as possible. Special needs assistants (SNA) accompany students to some lessons in Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies and they do good work in supporting students and teachers.
As part of the planning process, individual subject teachers analyse students' outcomes in certificate examinations and compare these to the national norms each year. These analyses inform planning for the following year. This is good practice.
Teaching and learning
During the inspection visit, second and third-year materials technology (wood) practical lessons, Leaving Certificate construction studies project work and fifth and sixth-year construction studies theory lessons were evaluated. Overall, good teaching of both subjects was observed.
Teachers' planning for all lessons evaluated was of a high standard. All lessons had clear aims and objectives and were suitable for the stage of the programme being delivered. Best practice was observed when the desired learning outcomes were shared with students at the beginning of lessons. Lessons were structured to ensure continuity and progression through the syllabuses. Activities were generally well-managed and conducted in an appropriately ordered learning environment.
In the lessons visited, teachers generally employed methodologies which were suitable in relation to students’ abilities, needs and interests and a range of strategies was used. During practical lessons, for example, teachers demonstrated appropriate skills, practices and processes to whole-class and smaller groups and to individual students when required. These demonstrations emphasised best practice, including best health and safety practices, and were very effective. During construction studies theory lessons a similar approach was adopted and teachers modelled for the students how building details should be constructed in an incremental manner. These drawings were completed on the whiteboard and it was noted that the teachers displayed considerable presentation skills using this medium.
An integrated approach to the teaching and learning of practice and theory in both Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies was observed during the evaluation. This is in keeping with recommended practice. Also lessons incorporated tasks that ensured students remained focused on the concepts being dealt with and this contributed to the achievement of good learning outcomes for students.
During the evaluation, students of Leaving Certificate Construction Studies were engaged in project work from a number of different areas of the syllabus and this variety clearly benefited all students in the classes. Junior Certificate students of Materials Technology (Wood) were completing a project in preparation for the arrival of the design brief for the 2009 certificate examination. Their work reflected the processes and procedures required for the successful completion of the design and make process which is an integral part of the examination. There was evidence that teachers' were managing and facilitating the complex process of completing large numbers of individually designed projects very well.
During lessons teachers questioned individual students or used global questions and, in so doing, they demonstrated effective questioning skills. In particular, very good use of higher-order questions in order to elicit knowledge, to advance students' understanding of concepts, to focus students' attention and to support their learning was observed.
Teachers used ICT extensively during their presentations. This helped to emphasise the technological nature of the subjects and allowed teachers to present the developmental stages of work undertaken in a coherent manner. Presentations typically included digital photographs, three-dimensional drawings and detailed two-dimensional scaled drawings and they reflected the development of students' thinking from concrete experience to abstract representation. Presenting lesson material in this manner also allowed teachers to model the key theory skills of freehand sketching and concise note-making. Very good practice in this regard was observed.
Throughout the evaluation teachers used and emphasised the principles and terminology associated with Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies. This allowed students to engage with essential concepts associated with the subjects and to listen to instructions and assimilate subject-specific terminology while working on their own tasks. This good practice enhanced both teaching and learning. Students communicated effectively with their peers, teachers and the inspector using the terminology associated with the subjects and this provided evidence of the success of teachers’ approaches.
Textbooks are prescribed for the subjects but were not overly relied upon during the inspection. Texts are used as a resource for students in the completion of class and homework tasks and are supplemented by the use of handout materials. This approach reflects recommended practice.
During lessons teachers moved around the woodwork rooms and interacted with individual students as they engaged in the completion of tasks. In the course of these interactions students' progress was assessed and teachers provided assistance to individuals when it was required. It was evident that students were accustomed to this approach and that it was generally working effectively in promoting their learning.
The woodwork rooms were very well organised and routines were evident during all lessons evaluated. As well as promoting responsibility for creating an ordered learning environment among students, these routines contribute significantly to the smooth running of lessons.
Homework is a feature of all lessons. This helps to ensure continuity with previous and future lessons. Overall, practices relating to homework are good.
During the inspection visit, students’ were generally engaged with classroom activities. They displayed the quality of their understanding in the competencies exhibited during the completion of assigned tasks and in their ability to answer and ask questions. Students generally exhibited levels of subject-specific knowledge and skills consistent with the range of abilities in classes visited during the evaluation. Some students of Leaving Certificate Construction Studies however, were disengaged from the planned activities related to the completion of project work. As this work must be completed within a fixed period prior to the examination this is a matter of concern. Ways of ensuring the engagement of these students should be identified by the school as a priority.
The content of Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies drawing portfolios and notes copies was appropriate and coverage of consistent, comprehensive syllabus-related material was evident in students’ work. Overall, the quality of students’ work was good.
Formal mid-term, Christmas and end-of-year examinations in Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies are held each year and certificate examination students sit mock examinations in the second term. A percentage of marks for mid-term, Christmas and end-of-year examinations is currently allocated for the completion of project work and homework and this is good practice. In order to enhance this practice it is recommended that the maintenance of students' personal learning materials, that is, their note copies and drawing portfolios, also receive recognition at these times.
The results of all assessments are recorded systematically. Parents are regularly informed of the nature of students’ progress in Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies. Regular school reports, comments written in student's journal together with parent-teacher meetings are used for this purpose. Further contact may also be organised if required.
In order to promote best practice in respect of assessment for learning it is recommended that, in addition to the provision of oral feedback, teachers should also provide written feedback on the quality of students' practical and project work, drawings and notes completed during lessons. A similar system should be applied to students' homework activities.
Generally, students displayed a high level of enthusiasm for the subjects during the inspection. Also the subject-specific knowledge and skills they demonstrated were appropriate, relative to their ages and abilities.
Summary of main findings and recommendations
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 Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published November 2009