An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science, Biology and Agricultural Science
Coláiste Dún Iascaigh
Cashel Road, Cahir, County Tipperary
Roll number: 76063D
Date of inspection: 6 & 7 November 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science, Biology and Agricultural Science
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Dún Iascaigh It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science, Biology and Agricultural 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 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 with students currently receiving one double and two single lessons per week in years one, two and three of junior cycle, which is what is recommended in the curriculum guidelines. Classes are created in first year based on alphabetical order. Students in second and third year are streamed based on ability in Science. This mode of class creation is reviewed regularly and modified if student progress is affected.
Following junior cycle, students enter Transition Year (TY), which is voluntary. One double lesson of each Science component is provided to the students as part of this programme. At Leaving Certificate students can study the traditional Leaving Certificate or enter the Leaving Certificate Applied Programme (LCA). Leaving Certificate students also have the option of taking the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) as part of their studies. Agricultural Science, Biology, Chemistry and Physics are optional science subjects for the students at Leaving Certificate. LCA students can choose to study the elective science and or the vocational specialism Agriculture/Horticulture. The time allocation for these is currently one double lesson and two single lessons respectively. All four Leaving Certificate science subjects are timetabled for two double lessons and one single lesson weekly in both year one and two of Leaving Certificate. This is within curriculum guidelines. Leaving Certificate science classes are of mixed ability students. The majority of science classes occur within the science facilities, which is very good practice and facilitated through good collaboration of the team.
The science team in the school currently comprises nine members. Eight members of the team are engaged in the delivery of the junior science programme. Two teachers are delivering the agricultural science curriculum with five teachers involved in the biology programme. Teacher allocation to classes is on a rota basis, with continuity occurring in the main between second and third year and fifth and sixth year. The science facilities comprise four laboratories with associated shared preparation areas and one demonstration room. The laboratories are designated for Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Agricultural Science. They are located along one corridor, which is specifically for science subjects. All the facilities viewed were well maintained and all organised for the effective delivery of junior science, which is commended. A print-rich environment was evident along the corridor and within the laboratories. Student work was evident which reflected work being completed in class, which is to be commended. In addition, posters, models and charts contributed to the visual stimuli present. It would be important that these reflect the material being covered in the lessons and therefore help to reinforce and aid student learning. The science team members also have access to televisions, video resources, DVDs, CDs, data projectors and laptops. Some of these are permanent resources within the sciences, with management stating that additional ICT is planned for the laboratories, which is to be commended.
A subject convenor is appointed. This role is rotated annually among the team, which is good practice. Management facilitates regular meetings of the team. No budget is provided but management accepts requests made by the team through the subject convenor. The science team were happy with this current arrangement. The constant development and not just the maintenance of resources should be an objective of the team going forward.
The school has a health and safety statement. It was prepared in consultation with in-school management, teachers and the board of management. Teachers were consulted through the use of staff meetings and individually in the preparation of this statement. Management stated that the current statement was reviewed more than a year ago. Safety equipment such as fire extinguishers, safety blankets and safety glasses were observed in the laboratories. The guidelines on safety: Safety in School Science and Safety in the School Laboratory, published by the Department of Education and Science (DES), were also available to the science team.
Opportunities for continuing professional development in Science and previously in Biology and the physical sciences have been availed of by the teachers and encouraged by management. In addition the students are also benefiting from attendance at and participation in the Young Scientist and Technology competition, Science Week, field trips, quizzes and various competitions. The benefit of these experiences to the student 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.
A significant amount of team planning has been developed within the sciences. Common plans are present for all year groups, which is good practice. Good mechanisms are also established to track centrally the work completed for each class group. Plans are reviewed regularly and modified when and where appropriate for a class group. This is especially important in light of the streamed nature of the junior classes. The development of resources and strategies that will meet student needs will require constant planning. The utilisation of expertise among the science team will be invaluable for the development of this area of work. The use of formal and informal meetings has helped to progress this work to date, which is to be commended. The team also identified liaison with other subject departments and special educational needs team as important considerations in their planning, which is good practice. To further this area, the team could also consider student achievement, optional assessment methods, revision work, support and planning for mixed-ability classes, support and planning for students with special educational needs, in-career development, cross-curricular planning, homework and the integration of information and communication technology (ICT) in the future planning of the team.
Short-term planning was evident in the lessons observed. This was reinforced by the written documents presented and with an observed familiarity with the subject matter involved. A coherent theme was also present in the lessons. There was prior preparation of the materials and the apparatus required for demonstration and student-centred investigative work. In addition, student learning was aided through the use of a variety of resources, which included the use of models, ICT, textbooks, the whiteboard, various types of handout material and use of the overhead projector, which are to be commended. The team should also consider in its planning, ways to increase student participation within the lesson when and where appropriate.
In the main, lessons were planned and structured in a manner which provided continuity with the previous lesson. Individual teachers kept records of work completed to date with each class. The articulation of learning outcomes was only done in a minority of classes. Where observed it provided a reference to the students and helped them take ownership of their learning, which is good practice. The team should consider the inclusion of learning outcomes in the planning process.
A high quality of teaching and learning was in evidence in the majority of lessons observed. A variety of topics were being delivered during the inspection, which included microbiology, cells and the microscope, the periodic table, air, beef, atomic bonding, excretion and dairy. Classes commenced with students sitting in pre-assigned seats and the roll being taken. Following this there was recall of previous work through oral questioning. This was most effective when questions were directed to named students and all student material was closed. In this situation the true understanding and learning of the students was ascertained, which was good practice.
When a new topic was being introduced, the development of links between it and previous work was also observed. In addition to this, the level of student knowledge in relation to the topic could also be explored prior to the delivery of new information. This provided a base from which to develop the new topic. As stated previously, the outlining of objectives or learning outcomes was observed in a number of lessons. Informing students of what is expected of them from the lesson helped focus their learning and was also very useful at the end of the lesson to aid recall of the work completed.
A good student-teacher rapport was evident in the lessons observed. Discipline was sensitively maintained with effective classroom management also evident. Lessons were in the main of an appropriate pace to facilitate students’ learning. When the time available will not allow for the satisfactory delivery of material, it may be necessary on occasion to consolidate what has been done and develop it further in subsequent lessons. In this way, difficulties with student learning can be avoided. Effective classroom management was also aided when the teacher circulated around the room. This helped to enhance student engagement and also allowed student work to be viewed and corrected by the teacher. This occurred in the majority of lessons observed and was good practice.
Learning was reinforced through the use of various types of handouts and worksheets, well-constructed board work, acetates, use of models, presentations on PowerPoint, use of textbooks, teacher demonstrations and student-based investigations. An integrated approach was observed with a variety of methodologies employed in each of the lessons observed, which was good practice. These all aided the students to visualise the material being studied and thus helped their learning. Significant time has been spent in the development of the various resources used in the lessons observed, which is to be commended. Sharing of all this material is to be encouraged among the team. Recording by students of work completed in class was a factor of most lessons. Where handouts and work sheets form the basis of this information strategies need to be adopted to ensure the retention of this material by the student for use in their learning.
The use of group work and team teaching was also observed to very good effect. Students engaged in the well-constructed group work, developing the task assigned while being monitored and probed by the teacher. The students were very engaged in discussion, decision-making and reporting their finding to the rest of the class. This was very effective and could be developed more for other class groups. The team teaching observed was very well co-ordinated, planned and delivered. Students’ understanding of an abstract topic on completion of the class was of a high standard. A sense of achievement resulted; student self esteem was elevated with affirmation given throughout the class, which is to be commended. This is especially positive in light of the fact that a number of the students had learning difficulties. The strategies observed were appropriate which resulted in student engagement and learning. Methodologies employed should be shared with the rest of the science team in order to enhance the learning experience of other similar class groups.
Theory-based lessons used board work, acetates, PowerPoint, handouts, worksheets and teacher demonstration to aid and enhance the delivery of new material. Demonstration was effective when all students had a good view of the material and where there was good interaction through questioning with some student participation in the task. This was followed up through note taking which consolidated what was observed and is good practice. Where lessons were very didactic, student engagement was very much reduced and they were also very passive. This was not widely observed but should be avoided, as student learning will be affected. It is important to remember that methodologies employed should be appropriate to the student ability and should enhance not hinder the learning and understanding of the topic.
Student practical activities were observed in some of the lessons. Students demonstrated a good level of skill when carrying out their various tasks. None of the tasks was mandatory in nature but would help the students in their understanding of the topic and enhance their practical skills, which is very positive. Observation of student practical laboratory notebooks provided evidence of further practical work completed by the students. The science team should consider the development of a consistent approach to the organisation of the lab copies. In addition, it would be important for the team to consider what skills the students need to develop in relation to their lab work and how it can be facilitated. Monitoring of student practical notebooks is also encouraged and could be incorporated into the scheme for assessment for all year groups.
A mixture of questioning techniques and question types is important in all lessons. The use of recall questions must be expanded to more probing higher-order questions on occasion, which will assist in the evaluation of the students’ level of understanding and learning. Skilful questioning was also observed in lessons with lower-ability students, which helped to develop student understanding and also helped to maintain a high level of student engagement in the lesson. In all instances the teacher affirmed student responses.
Effective use of the textbook was observed when it was used to supplement and reinforce what had been completed in class, which is to be commended. However, some groups observed found it a challenge to use the textbook as their primary source of information. Alternatives to aid the student should be explored. In addition, how students’ use and combine their notes, their textbook, their lab copy and other material given to aid their learning needs to be explored by the team. Different strategies for different groups may need to be implemented following discussions by the team. Homework was assigned in the majority of lessons, which is good practice. Completion of this by students would reinforce the work in class and therefore assist their learning.
The school has both assessment and homework policies, which were completed as part of the SDP process. The teachers monitor the implementation of the homework policy in the school. Student learning is informally assessed daily through homework and oral questioning during the lessons. Class examinations are administered at the end of a topic at the discretion of the teacher. Student results are recorded for all tests completed, by the teacher. Formal school examinations occur in November for year two Leaving Certificate students. All other students have formal examinations at Christmas and summer, with examination classes also sitting pre-examinations in the spring of their examination year. Common assessment occurs at times for the summer examinations for non-examination classes. In addition, the team could consider awarding all students marks for their practical copies as part of their overall grade in the subject. This would have the effect of providing the students with further motivation for engagement with the practical elements of the course.
Formal reports are sent to parents following Christmas, summer and pre-examinations. Year two Leaving Certificate students also receive monthly reports from September to their pre-examinations. In this way progress can be monitored, which is to be commended. In addition to reports, parent-teacher meetings are held for all classes annually. The student journal is also used to inform parents of student progress.
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, Biology and Agricultural 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, March 2009