An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Physics
Coolock, Dublin 5
Roll number: 60550B
Date of inspection: 25 March 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Physics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Chanel College, carried out as part of a whole-school evaluation. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science and Physics and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of these subjects 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.
Science and Physics are well provided for in Chanel College in terms of staff and of facilities. The time allocation, the availability of double lesson periods, and the provision of classes of a suitable size for student practical work all accord with good practice. Science is a core subject, taken in mixed-ability classes. The schoolís participation in the DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) action plan for educational inclusion facilitates the participation of some students in the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) and in these classes use is made of JCSP profiling statements. Participation in JCSP is a key part of the schoolís strategy to raise the levels of student expectations and of student achievement.
At senior cycle level Biology and Physics are included in the fifth-year and sixth-year curriculum and as modules in Transition Year (TY). While Chemistry is offered as a senior cycle subject each year, in recent years there has not been a take-up of the subject. When TY is next reviewed Chemistry should again be included in it either as a separate module or as part of a science module, along with Physics and Biology.
Procedures for identifying and providing support for students with special educational needs are good. The commitment of the science department to meeting the needs of students with additional educational needs is shown by the attention given to this area in the science plan, including reflection on how the departmentís service to students with additional needs can be enhanced.
While members of the science department have undertaken continuing professional development on a regular basis, there is a need for a continued emphasis in this area. In doing this teachers should make use of the resources, including the websites, of their professional associations as well as the professional development provided through the Second Level support Service (SLSS).
The schoolís high-quality information and communication technologies (ICT) resources are used to very good effect in the teaching and learning of Science and Physics. The school has new science laboratories that will shortly be fully equipped. Visual stimuli including charts, displays and studentsí work help provide a stimulating environment for learning in the laboratories.
When the three laboratories are brought into full use for Science, co-ordination of student practical work will be a challenge. The science department should address this through building on the current high level of co-operation among the science teachers by using the subject expertise of each member, perhaps through the development of kits for student experimental work in Chemistry, Physics, and Biology. Through the science department co-ordinator a tracking system for laboratory resources should be developed.
The science departmentís planning folder includes a list of the possible hazards and risks associated with teaching and learning Science in the school. As part of the schoolís health and safety procedures and to support the regular review of its safety statement, the science staff should carry out annual health and safety audits of the science laboratories. The work should be informed by the Department of Education and Science and the State Claims Agency publication Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post-primary Schools (page 25) as well as the relevant Departmental publications on safety in school science.
A range of extracurricular activities supports Science in the school. Shortly before the evaluation the school had held a rocket launching competition that involved all the first-year classes and also the Transition Year physics class, which illustrated in a highly effective manner some of the applications of Science.
Planning in the science department is facilitated through the subject co-ordinator. Planning documentation for Science and for Physics is of a very high quality. An example of this is the reflection that the department carries out on its work as shown in the planning documentation and in reports of science-team meetings. This practice of reflection and associated critical analysis should be continued and further developed as a means of securing the highest possible standards in the work of the department. It should also be used as a basis for further planning through the development of action plans to advance the work of the department.
Among other areas included in the science plan are cross-curricular planning, effective teaching methodologies, and homework and assessment procedures. In particular the section on effective teaching methodologies could serve as a basis for agenda items at departmental meetings. The physics plan, of similar high quality also includes a useful section on class organisation.
Long-term plans for the teaching of Science and Physics are well co-ordinated and include topics to be covered over the year. Over time these plans should be further developed to include student learning objectives, assessment procedures and methods, and resources required. Further development could include more detailed time-lines and the teaching methodologies to be used.
In planning for first-year Science consideration should be given to reducing the content to be covered in first year allied with a strong focus on the development in students of key science skills. In the TY science programme it is clear that the TY physics module aims to build on junior cycle Science and to develop studentsí abilities at practical work. It is suggested that the concept of TY science as a bridge to Leaving Certificate science, with an emphasis on independent learning and laboratory work, should inform TY science modules.
ICT resources are being continually developed by the science department and considerable sharing of resources has taken place. Particularly impressive is the range of resources that has been developed for junior cycle Science. To further the work in this area a common folder should be developed either on the schoolís intranet or as a science department moodle.
All lessons observed were well planned and prepared.
Very good teaching was seen in almost all lessons with clear aims for each lesson. Examples of the teaching methodologies listed in the departmental plan were observed in lessons. ICT was used effectively in almost all lessons. An example seen in one lesson was the use of ICT to revise graphs. Where very good practice was seen a range of methodologies was used in lessons so as to accommodate the variety of preferred learning styles of students.
Good practice was seen where a lesson topic was addressed through a number of activities that each led to the next. A small number of lessons, however, were overly teacher-centred, with a low level of student activity. On the other hand in one lesson very good practice was seen where a range of approaches was used to the lesson topic, including teacher explanation, ICT presentation and the construction of a model by students.
Where good practice was seen the learning objectives of lessons were shared with students at the outset of lessons. This should happen in all lessons so as to encourage students in taking responsibility for their learning. The learning objectives can then form a basis for informal assessment of studentsí learning during and at the end of lessons and can feed into planning for subsequent lessons.
Questioning of students was used in all lessons both for informal assessment and for developing the lesson theme. Where good practice was seen questions were of a variety of types and a range of strategies was evident in their use. Differentiation was observed in one lesson. In other lessons examples were seen of cross-curricular approaches to the development of topics.†
Classroom management in all lessons was very good with very good individual attention being given to students. The atmosphere in almost all lessons was conducive to learning with very high levels of student participation.
From their engagement with the lessons observed, including the questions and the comments that they directed at their teachers, it was clear that students were learning in all lessons.†
Given the range of student abilities in the science classes greater use should be made of keyword charts to help in developing studentsí familiarity with science terms.
The inclusion of science department homework and assessment procedures in the science plan is good practice as is the inclusion of studentsí laboratory work in their end-of-term marks in school examinations. The inclusion of a mark for studentsí homework should be considered also. The department shows good practice through having common assessment in science end-of-term examinations.
Some very good examples of supportive feedback were seen in studentsí work examined. While it is clear that teachers are following the same broad practices in relation to assessing studentsí work, (laboratory notebooks, homework books, and other notebooks) it is suggested that the procedures for this aspect of teachers work should be documented in the science plan. Assessment for learning practices should be adopted in relation to examining studentsí work so that all work is examined on a regular basis and students are offered affirmative advice and direction. The Assessment for Learning section of the NCCA website gives information on this.
A major objective of the policies and work of the science department should be the raising of studentsí expectations and achievements on a consistent basis. Having a strong focus on assessment for learning should contribute to the achievement of this aim.
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 December 2009