An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Chemistry
Roll number: 62981P
Date of inspection: 28 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Chemistry
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Éinde as part of a whole-school evaluation. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Chemistry and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject 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 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, deputy principal and subject teacher.
Students’ access to senior cycle subjects is based on a best-fit model and all chemistry classes are of mixed ability. These practices are appropriate. There are good supports for students when making their subject choices for the senior cycle. These supports include information for parents and guidance and advice for students from the guidance counsellor, subject teachers, deputy principal and principal. The time allocation for Chemistry meets with the recommendations of the syllabus.
One of the two science laboratories in the school is used for teaching Chemistry. The laboratory is in a satisfactory state of repair and sufficient equipment is available to support the teaching of Chemistry. There is an adjacent preparation and storage area. Good work has been done in organising the storage of equipment and materials in this area and this is to be commended. The chemicals are stored in accordance with Department recommendations and this is appropriate.
There is ample information and communications technology (ICT) equipment in the laboratory with a data projector, computer, notebook computer, scanner and printer available.
Improving the uptake of Chemistry has been identified as a priority by the chemistry staff and by the school management. To assist in addressing this challenge the school plans to survey students on their reasons for not selecting a science subject at senior cycle and to use the results of the survey to devise strategies to increase the numbers of students choosing science subjects. Such a proactive approach to the issue is to be commended. It is acknowledged as good practice that the science teachers speak with the students in advance of making subject choices and the teachers support students’ participation in a range of extracurricular and co-curricular science activities. These practices help to ensure that students have a beneficial experience of science subjects and this is supportive of encouraging a greater uptake at senior cycle. To assist in addressing this issue it is recommended that the school draw up an action plan that identifies the strategies to be used to improve the level of uptake among students. It would be of benefit if the action plan also outlined suitable goals to be achieved within the life of the plan and included an emphasis on the part that participation in investigative practical work can play in developing students’ scientific skills and enjoyment of the subject. The continuing integration of student performance of practical work can help to support positive attitudes among students to science subjects and thus can improve the levels of uptake at senior cycle.
The Transition Year (TY) science programme contains elements of Chemistry and this is valuable as exposure to the subject can help to inform students’ subject choices for senior cycle. In building on this it is advised that support for future revisions to the TY science plan could be achieved through liaison between the chemistry staff and the staff teaching the TY science programme.
The school pays the individual teacher’s membership fee for the relevant professional association and facilitates the chemistry staff in attending in-service chemistry education courses. This shows good support for the chemistry staff’s continuing professional development.
There is a co-ordinator for science subjects. This role rotates among the science staff and this is good practice as it enables all staff members to gain experience of the breadth and depth of co-ordinating the activities of the department. The science department meets regularly and this supports its work in subject planning.
A subject plan for Chemistry was viewed. Good work has been done in drawing up this plan and this work is to be commended. The plan beneficially informs and supports the teaching of Chemistry. It was clear from discussion with the chemistry staff that it is reflective in its practices and it would be of added value if the chemistry plan contained a facility to record observations arising from this practice of reflection and self-review.
All lessons were appropriate to the syllabus and a high level of advance preparation was evident as all requisite materials were readily to hand. Lessons proceeded efficiently and at an appropriate pace due to the preparation that had been completed by the chemistry staff and this is to be commended.
A variety of appropriate methodologies was used in the lessons that were observed. These methodologies included student performance of practical work and this was a particularly noteworthy feature of all lessons. It was well organised, performed safely, and students benefitted from individual support from their teacher. The practical work enabled students to gain further understanding of the concepts that were being studied. It afforded them an opportunity to develop their teamwork skills by working in small groups and it provided for the development of their observational and scientific process skills. The use of an approach that involved students in predicting, observing and explaining the phenomena being investigated was advantageous in aiding students’ learning. Another beneficial aspect of lessons was the manner in which the desired learning outcomes were shared with students at the beginning of the lessons. This practice helped to focus students’ attention on the main learning points and kept the purpose of the lesson to the forefront of their thoughts. Students’ learning was also facilitated by the teacher breaking down the material being taught into small, manageable portions and by the use of frequent recap and reinforcement of what had been taught. ICT was used effectively in all lessons to aid the presentation of lesson content. Its use was beneficial as it supported a visual approach to learning where the main learning points were clearly outlined and this is to be commended.
There was a sense of positive discipline in all lessons and students were courteous and respectful at all times. Students’ responses were affirmed by their teacher and this helped to support a positive classroom environment. The atmosphere in lessons was one of mutual respect and this is to be commended.
Students were participative in lesson activities. They demonstrated generally good levels of knowledge and understanding of the topics being taught and these were shown by their answers to questions that were posed by the teacher and by the questions that they posed. Discussions between the inspector and the students revealed that they had good levels of interest in Chemistry.
There are appropriate arrangements in place for regularly assessing students’ progress in Chemistry and for reporting periodically to parents.
It is noteworthy that all students are encouraged to follow the higher-level syllabus for as long as possible and this is to be commended as good practice as it serves to set high expectations for students.
A sample of students’ copybooks was viewed. It was evident that students have generally completed a satisfactory amount of experimental work and this work has been recorded by them to a high standard. Homework was set periodically for students. The level of correction and monitoring of this work appeared to be variable across the copybooks. Best practice was noted where homework was used frequently with appropriate correction and monitoring to consolidate and build on students’ learning. To assist in building on the important part played by homework in students’ learning it is recommended that the chemistry staff give priority to devising, within the context of a whole-school homework policy, guidelines for homework practices to include details of the frequency with which homework is to be given and the practices around correction and monitoring.
In this school, the main methods of assessing students’ practical skills in Chemistry include feedback while they perform experiments, feedback based on the write-up of their work, and credit in examinations for the write-up of experiments. Suggestions for formalising the assessment of students’ practical skills, including their teamwork skills, and for providing feedback to them on their skill levels were discussed with the chemistry staff during the inspection and the idea of developing these additional assessment and feedback practices was met with enthusiasm. Thus, it is recommended that the chemistry staff implement a formal assessment of students’ practical skills with consequent feedback to students on these skills.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The laboratory is in good repair and sufficient equipment is available to support the teaching of Chemistry.
· There is good support for the chemistry staff’s continuing professional development.
· All lessons were appropriate to the syllabus and a high level of advance preparation was evident.
· A variety of appropriate methodologies was used in the lessons that were observed.
· The performance of practical work was a particularly noteworthy feature of lessons.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the school draw up an action plan that identifies the strategies to be used to improve the level of uptake of Chemistry among students.
· It is recommended that the chemistry staff implement a formal assessment of students’ practical skills with consequent feedback to students on these skills.
· To assist in building on the important part played by homework in students’ learning it is recommended that the chemistry staff give priority to devising, within the context of a whole-school homework policy, guidelines for homework practices to include details of the frequency with which homework is to be given and the practices around correction and monitoring.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teacher of Chemistry and with the principal and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published November 2008