An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Biology
De La Salle College
Macroom, Co Cork
Roll number: 62310O
Date of inspection: 2 February 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and biology
This report has been written following a subject inspection in De La Salle College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science and Biology, 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. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Junior Science is a core subject in the school. A time allocation of four single lessons is assigned to this subject in first year and second year. In third year the same time allocation is divided up into two single lessons and one double lesson weekly. The inclusion of double lessons for the duration of this course is recommended in the syllabus guidelines. The lack of double lessons in both first year and second year should be reviewed in line with this recommendation. Decisions taken would also need to ensure that students are afforded time for the completion of practical work and, in doing so, they are allowed to develop the investigative approach that is advocated by the revised syllabus.
Following Junior Certificate, students enter the compulsory Transition Year (TY) programme. Students can study Biology, Chemistry and Physics as part of this programme. There is an allocation of four single lessons weekly. At Leaving Certificate level, students can also study the same three optional science subjects. Currently Biology is in two option blocks. It is opposite French in one option and Geography in the other option. Management stated that students are surveyed in relation to subject preferences. However the current option blocks are in operation for some time. All three science subjects are being studied in both year one and year two of Leaving Certificate, with a time allocation of five single lessons in both years. Although this time allocation is within curriculum guidelines, there are no double lessons scheduled. As the syllabus recommends double lessons in order to carry out the required practical elements, this situation should be reviewed by both the science team and management to ensure that the studentsí ability to engage with the practical elements of the course is not hampered by specific time allocations.
The science facilities comprise one laboratory with associated preparation area and chemical store. There is huge demand on this space and the team have devised a rota for laboratory access, which is good practice. The school operates, in the main, teacher-based rooms. This gives some scope to management and the science team to develop another science-type room in the school. Currently the school has an application for additional laboratory space but no decision had been arrived at in relation to this at the time of the inspection. One room that both the team and management could consider converting is room 13 in the school. It is close to the existing laboratory and has a storeroom attached. With some minor modifications, this room could function as a proper science classroom/laboratory, where some practical elements of the syllabuses could be carried out. The installing of some additional electrical power sockets, putting down a water-proof floor covering and changing the student seating in this room would make it suitable for some practical activities. The inclusion of safety materials and equipment would also have to be considered by the science team and management. The storeroom can be locked and could be set up to hold material and equipment required for the practical activities. Additional materials could be transported, if required, on a trolley from the main laboratory. Organisation in the main laboratory is progressing. This should continue as part of the ongoing development of the science department.
There are currently four teachers in the science team. All are involved in teaching junior science, with two teachers involved in teaching Leaving Certificate Biology. Teacher allocation to classes is on a continuity basis. A subject co-ordinator and a subject convenor have been appointed. The subject co-ordinator is a post of responsibility. The main role of the co-ordinator is to maintain the laboratory and organise the timetable for laboratory access. The subject-convenor role is rotated among the team, which is good practice. The convenorís main role is in the organisation of formal team meetings. These are usually held at least once a term and minutes are recorded. Informal meetings are also held when required by the team. No set budget is provided but management facilitates requests made by the team through the co-ordinator. The continual development, and not just the maintenance, of resources should be an objective of the team.
The inclusion and development of a print-rich environment within the teaching and learning spaces for Science/Biology is strongly encouraged. Studentsí work should be used as part of this print-rich display. In addition, all material displayed should reflect work being completed in class and therefore aid and enhance the studentsí learning. The development and use of a science notice board should also be considered by the team.†
To help with the delivery of science, the science team has access to televisions, video resources, DVDs, CDs, data projectors, data logging equipment, broadband access and laptop computers. Some of these are permanent resources within the science rooms, which is to be commended. Continued use and development of these resources is recommended.
The school has a health-and-safety statement. Teachers were consulted through staff meetings, working groups and individual submissions in the preparation of this statement, which is good practice. Management stated that the current statement was last reviewed over a year ago. There is a section relating to these subject areas in the overall statement, which is good practice. The laboratories have access to safety equipment such as fire extinguishers, safety blankets and safety glasses. The guidelines on safety: Safety in School Science and Safety in the School Laboratory published by the Department of Education and Science were also available.
Opportunities for continuing professional development in Science and, previously, in Biology and the physical sciences have been availed of and encouraged by management. In addition, the school has recently held a whole-staff event in the area of co-operative learning.
Fieldtrips and quizzes are included in the curriculum of science students in the school. The school also owns a blanket bog which provides many opportunities for the science team to develop. The benefit of these co-curricular experiences to the students must not be underestimated as a means of reinforcing and enhancing their learning. Such activities are to be commended and encouraged for all science students.
Common plans are present for all year groups, which is good practice. The team could consider the development and expansion of the plans into areas such as learning outcomes. Maintaining regular reviews of the current plans is essential, with any modifications indicated and recorded. In addition, the team should establish central tracking systems. This would involve a central tracker sheet for each class group in each year which could be placed in the Science and Biology planning folders. On this sheet, at regular intervals, the teacher would enter work completed by each class. This would aid the review process and would also inform a new teacher of work completed by a class group, if required. Other areas to be considered by the team could be assessment methods, practical work, homework and the further development and integration of information and communication technology (ICT) in future planning.
Observed lessons were planned and structured to provide continuity with the previous lesson. Records of work and assessments completed to date were presented for each class. There was also prior preparation of the variety of resources required for all lesson types observed, which is good practice.
In the main, lessons observed began with the roll being taken. The topics being studied included the Carbon Cycle, Energy, Acids and Bases, and Enzymes. There was evidence of a good rapport between the students and the teachers, with no discipline issues observed.
Various methodologies were employed in the lessons. These included the use of ICT, overhead projector, the board, textbook and some demonstration work. Their use was an aid to the completion of work in the classroom, which is to be commended. However, the engagement of students in their learning should be a focus for future planning. Questioning should be a very important component of all lesson types. The main questioning type observed was recall. This should be developed into higher-order questioning, where appropriate. In addition, the inclusion of all students in the questioning process is very important in order to ascertain learning. The use of probing techniques should also be used to help students attain the correct answer. Students should close all books before questioning to ensure that studentsí learning is being ascertained. The team could also consider the development of the use of keywords. In this way, important terms could be put on the board. Students would be able to visualise them and they could form the basis of revision of work completed during the lesson.
The board was utilised to help students visualise the material being studied and also provided a source of notes for the students to record their learning. The use of different colours for board work should be considered. Worksheets and handouts were also used to focus studentsí learning. Where these handouts and worksheets form the basis of recording information, strategies need to be adopted to ensure the retention of this material by the students for use in their learning. Reference to textbooks was used to supplement and reinforce the learning and teaching which had already been completed during the lesson, and this is to be commended.
The lesson pace was appropriate in the majority of lessons observed. At the start of most lessons observed, good linkages were made with previous work completed which aided student learning. Consolidation of learning should be carried out during the lesson before moving forward, to ensure student understanding. The teachers had clear aims and objectives for the lessons observed. Consideration should be given to communicating these to the students at the start of the lesson to help focus their learning.
Homework was assigned at the completion of most classes observed. Students were either given a worksheet for completion, or assigned questions from their textbook. In the main, the homework assigned was designed to assist the students in learning and retaining the topic, which is good practice.
Practical demonstration occurred in some of the observed lessons, comprising both mandatory and non-mandatory activities, which is to be commended. The teacher took the lead role in these activities. Involving students in this type of activity should be considered to ensure and improve engagement with the topic. In the main, students observed the demonstration. The use of various types of questioning during the activity, or the completion of a task following the activity, should be considered to improve student engagement. Students should be encouraged to make an independent record of activities. A similar approach could also be adopted to summarise material delivered during a theory class.
The school has adopted a pro-forma laboratory copy for the students. The regular monitoring of studentsí practical notebooks is encouraged and could be incorporated into the scheme for assessment for all year groups. A review of student practical copies indicated the completion of a range of practical activities, which is to be commended.
The school has a formal homework policy. The teachers monitor the implementation of this policy on a daily basis. Informal assessment of studentsí learning is assessed daily. This is achieved through various types of classroom activities, such as the correction of homework and oral questioning at the start of, and during, the lessons. Some of these activities were observed during the evaluation. Continual assessment also occurs, with class tests administered by the teacher on completion of a unit of work or a topic. The science team, as part of their planning, could decide on a minimum level of assessment required for each year group as part of the planning process. The teacher retains all assessment results, which is good practice.
The school does not have a formal assessment policy. However, formal student assessment occurs through tests at Christmas and summer. The continual assessment currently does not form part of the assessment process at these times. The science team and management could consider assigning a portion of the studentsí continual assessment grades to their results at Christmas and summer. In addition, state examination classes sit pre-examinations in the spring of their examination year.
Formal reports are issued on completion of the formal school assessments. Parent-teacher meetings are held for all classes annually. The student journal is also used to inform parents of studentsí progress. Consideration could be given to the use of comments and marks on homework exercises to inform parents of studentsí progress.
In addition, the team could consider awarding all students marks for their practical copies as part of their overall grade in the subject. This could have the effect of increasing studentsí motivation and engagement with the practical elements of the course.
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 Biology 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