An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science
St Joseph’s Secondary School
Foxford County Mayo
Roll number: 64640W
Date of inspection: 23 and 24 September 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Joseph’s Secondary School, Foxford, County Mayo 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 makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject 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 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 teachers.
Science is offered as an optional subject in junior cycle at St Joseph’s Secondary School. Uptake is good with in excess of seventy percent of students choosing Science in all years of junior cycle. Classes are of mixed ability. Continuity of teaching and learning is maintained in that class groups generally retain the same teacher throughout junior cycle. Support for students and parents in choosing subjects is good with information meetings, open day, guidance and subject specialist support. However, it is recommended that consideration is given to providing core science for all first-year students.
All Transition Year (TY) students study applied aspects of Science with modules in Sports Science and Forensic Science. This is commendable. It is suggested that subject sampling of Physics, Chemistry and Biology also forms part of TY science provision so that students are more fully aware of what is required of them when choosing a Leaving Certificate science subject.
Physics, Chemistry and Biology are offered as senior cycle options; however, numbers choosing Chemistry have not made it possible for the school to offer this subject in the current year. Numbers of students choosing Physics and Biology are good with one class group of physics students in fifth and sixth year, three class groups of biology students in fifth year and two groups in sixth year. Senior students are also well supported in making an informed subject choice.
Time allocation to Science at junior cycle and to the science subjects at senior cycle is satisfactory with one double and two single class periods in each year of junior cycle, one double and one single class period in TY and one double and three single class periods at senior cycle. The distribution of class periods across the week is good. There are three teachers in the science department in the school. Teachers are well deployed and are supported by school management in attending in-service courses. Membership of a professional organisation is supported by the school.
The school has two well-maintained science laboratories. Equipment and materials are stored in an orderly manner. In addition, the laboratories are enhanced with relevant models, posters and charts, and students’ project work was also in evidence. A preparation room adjoins each laboratory. In addition, a chemical storage room is provided with access from the physics preparation room. However, chemicals are currently stored in the general preparation room adjacent to the Biology laboratory. Therefore, it is recommended that, in the interests of best health and safety practice, chemicals be stored in a suitable ventilated facility and that a flame proof cabinet be provided for flammable materials.
The school’s health and safety policy is currently under review. Relevant consultation was carried out with the science department in drawing up and reviewing this policy. There are generally good health and safety practices in the science laboratories. Safety equipment was in evidence. Laboratory rules were clearly displayed. It is recommended that school bags are always stored safely, so as not to constitute a trip hazard in laboratories as on occasions some schoolbags did constitute such a hazard.
Information and communication technologies (ICT) facilities have been provided in the science laboratories. These laboratories have been provided with laptop computers and data-projectors and are networked to the school’s internet facilities. This is commended. Grants for the provision of computers and data logging equipment to Physics and Chemistry as part of the Physical Sciences Initiative still remain unspent. This matter needs urgent attention and the school should make reference to the relevant circulars issued in March and December 2000 for further information. It is commendable that the science department was in the process of identifying a suitable data logging system.
Students are encouraged to partake in a multitude of co-curricular and extracurricular activities including participation in the BT Young Scientists’ and Technology competition and the Scifest competition. It is commendable that students have achieved considerable success in these activities.
Formal science department planning meetings are convened once each term. These meetings are minuted and evidence provided in the course of the evaluation confirms that many relevant issues relating to the science department are discussed at these meetings. The science team also meets informally on an ongoing basis. The science department has a voluntary co-ordinator in place and this position rotates annually among the teachers. This is commended as good practice.
A good science department plan was made available in the course of the evaluation. Course content is linked to syllabus learning outcomes. This is very good practice. While the plan addresses many key aspects of science provision, it should be further broadened to include areas such as appropriate teaching methodologies, assessment procedures and resources for each section of the course. Current TY science planning is based on pre-prepared modules. A comprehensive and up-to-date TY science plan, in line with Department guidelines, should be drawn up now.
There was very effective planning in evidence in advance of lessons observed. Practical and ICT equipment were set up and ready to use. Lesson content was well planned which led to successful learning outcomes as was evident during the evaluation.
Learning objectives were shared with students at the outset of most lessons. It is recommended that this good practice be extended across all lessons. Lessons observed concluded with a good plenary session and this is commendable as it reinforces learning. The clear structure of lessons ensured that learning was incrementally built up and continuously reinforced. There was a very good atmosphere for learning with a positive classroom rapport. Individual and group support was given as necessary. Affirmation of students was consistently in evidence.
Methodologies were varied and led in the main to effective student learning. In one lesson observed, students were set the task of determining the energy systems used for different types of body activity. Students were divided into groups and assigned the relevant activity. A result’s sheet was drawn up with student input in advance and this ensured that results were recorded appropriately at the end of each activity. Learning was activity based and students were encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning. This is highly commended.
The board was used in most lessons to focus key words and key ideas and to summarise lesson material. It is recommended that this methodology be extended to all lessons. ICT was used effectively in some lessons and had the effect of consolidating student learning. However, further possibilities should be explored; for example, the use of suitable animations or applets to reinforce core lesson material is recommended. Homework was assigned at the conclusion of all lessons. Relevant worksheets were distributed in some lessons and this reinforced students’ learning. It is recommended that this practice be extended across all lessons. In general, classroom discussion was good and learning was student led. In some instances, participation by students could be improved. Therefore it is recommended that measures be put in place to improve students’ input to lessons in an effort to improve ownership by students of the learning process.
Practical investigations formed the core of some lessons visited. Safety was emphasised and students were very well supported in their practical activities. Students carried out the assigned task in small groups with care and diligence. Students were encouraged to learn by discovery and this methodology worked very effectively in creating a stimulating learning environment. It is recommended that extra work stations be developed for some practical work assignments as a means of improving time management of lessons. The following are some examples of learning by discovery observed in lessons. In one lesson, students were investigating the expansion of solids, liquids and gases. Students worked diligently and achieved desired learning outcomes on completion of the practical activities. Teacher-led demonstrations were also used effectively in lessons evaluated. In another lesson, students were learning about the forces between charges. Following discussion of key concepts and laws, an appropriate demonstration ensued. Learning was consolidated by group work. In a further example, students learned about the melting point and boiling point of water during a practical laboratory session. The states of matter were discussed and learning was consolidated by the group of students acting out these states and in so doing demonstrating the molecular behaviour of solids, liquids and gases. This is commended.
There was effective use of questioning in all lessons observed. Questioning was used as an ongoing teaching and learning strategy. Interest was heightened in many instances by the use of probing and challenging questions. Students exhibited good levels of confidence in answering questions on their work during the lessons observed and student outcomes in terms of skills and knowledge as observed were very good.
The uptake of higher-level Science is high. In addition, the proportion of students achieving a higher-level grade in Science is high and has remained consistently high over recent years.
Assessment in Science is consistent with the school’s overall assessment and homework policies. A clear emphasis on regular homework, class testing and revision was in evidence at the time of the evaluation. Third-year and sixth-year classes sit pre-examinations in March. Formal examinations take place at Christmas and in summer for all other class groups. In addition, there are ongoing class tests. It is commendable that results in certificate examinations are compared by school management to the national norms and these trends are used to inform teaching and learning.
A parent-teacher meeting is held annually for each year group and parents of sixth-year students are invited to an additional parent-teacher meeting at Easter. Reports are sent to parents following the Christmas and summer examinations. Further communication with parents takes place through the school homework journal, open evenings and information nights.
Students with additional needs are well supported with close liaison among science teachers, parents, school management, the learning support and guidance departments. Extra support is provided to students as necessary.
Practical notebooks examined in the course of the evaluation were generally of a good standard. It is commendable that it is science policy to allocate a portion of the marks in school examinations to the maintenance of a high quality record of practical work. In an effort to further improve the quality of students’ written practical records, it is recommended that notebooks are annotated and corrections are followed up on with students to ensure that students take full cognisance of teachers’ annotations.
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, together 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 February 2009