An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Biology
Malahide Community School
Malahide, County Dublin
Roll number: 91325R
Date of inspection: 26 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Biology
This report has been written following a subject inspection conducted as part of a Whole School Evaluation in Malahide Community School. 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 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.
Malahide Community School has six new science laboratories. It is good practice that the majority of science classes are held in a laboratory, given the substantial practical content of the revised Junior Certificate science and the Leaving Certificate biology syllabuses. In all cases, two laboratories are linked by a preparation and storage area. The science team is in the process of organising appropriate storage for materials and apparatus. The lockable chemical stores are well organised using a colour-coded scheme. Toxics and flammables are stored in lockable cabinets. It is recommended that appropriate ventilation be provided in each of the chemical stores.
The school’s health and safety statement was reviewed in May 2007 and it is commendable that the science team had significant input into this review. Appropriate health and safety features were observed during the evaluation. Health and safety equipment such as fire extinguishers, fire blankets, first aid kits and safety goggles are present in all laboratories. In order to extend this good practice a code of conduct for the laboratory should be displayed in all laboratories and added to student notebooks. An accident report book is available in each laboratory. A list of telephone numbers for the emergency services is available in the staffroom. This list could also be displayed in the laboratories together with names of teachers with qualifications in first aid. Each laboratory has an isolation switch for gas, electricity and water. However, none of the laboratories has a hot water tap. It is recommended that management explores how this shortfall can be rectified.
Science is a core subject at Junior Certificate level in Malahide Community School. It is allocated three class periods per week in first year and four class periods per week in second year and third year. Biology classes are allocated five periods per week in each of the Leaving Certificate years and these include one double period for practical work. This allocation is in line with National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) recommendations. Teachers generally retain the same science class from one year to the next and this level of continuity is commendable.
The school offers a range of programmes in senior cycle, including the Established Leaving Certificate, an optional Transition Year (TY) programme and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). Biology, Chemistry and Physics are available as Leaving Certificate subjects. Science is an optional module in the TY programme; however, students can progress to senior cycle biology, chemistry or physics without having completed the science module in TY.
Information and communication (ICT) provision for science is very good in the school. Each laboratory is equipped with a PC, data projector and screen. All are broadband enabled. The science team also has access to two laptops and a range of data loggers.
The science department places emphasis on co-curricular and extra-curricular activities as a method of supplementing classroom work. The school has had many entries in the BT Young Science and Technology exhibition over the last ten years and groups of students are brought to the exhibition each year. Students have entered the ‘Robowars’ competition in the RDS. Students have also attended the W5 museum in Belfast; science lectures in the RDS and senior chemistry students attend the Tindall Lecture. The science team has both biology students to the ENFO centre in Dublin and senior physics students to the Armagh observatory. In February 2008 a group of students visited the Space Centre in Belgium and teachers have planned to bring second year science students on an ecology trip to Birr Castle in May. As a result of contacts established with various industries through the science initiative, a number of industry-related visits are planned for the TY students. This level of commitment to co-curricular and extra-curricular activity is commendable.
Planning documentation presented at the time of the evaluation was organised under the following headings: aims, objectives, records of meetings, co-ordination of the science department, class organisation policy. It is commendable that the documents also contained planning for students with special educational needs and planning for a culturally diverse environment.
Planning for the curriculum content of the courses consists of lists of topics to be completed in each year for Junior Certificate science and topics to be completed during each term for Leaving Certificate biology. These lists have been compiled collaboratively by the science team and are agreed at the beginning of each school year. This provides a sound basis for a more detailed scheme of work for each year group. It is recommended that the science team collaboratively develops schemes of work for each year group. These schemes should be based on the Junior Certificate science and Leaving Certificate biology syllabuses. The schemes should include learning outcomes linked to appropriate methodologies and methods of assessment. Plans for each year group should include a section on health and safety to be delivered to students at the beginning of the school year. A list of the topics to be completed in class for the year could be circulated to students. This will assist students in planning and organising their work. Individual teacher planning was found to be very satisfactory.
The science department is co-ordinated effectively by a post holder whose duties include chairing department meetings, co-ordinating the science department plan and sourcing and purchasing materials. The science team has put together short, medium and long-term action plans for the department. This is good practice. Formal meetings of the science team take place approximately once per half-term, Lunchtime meetings are held once per month and there is also regular informal contact between members of the team. This level of communication is commendable.
The science team has developed a considerable number of resources for the science department. These included transparencies for the overhead projector (OHP), worksheets and class tests. Teachers also make use of PowerPoint presentations, downloaded diagrams from the internet, CD ROMs and video clips as well as past examination papers and chief examiners’ reports. A number of these resources have been added to the science department folder on the school’s e-portal system. There is scope to organise the resources in this folder in line with the topic headings found in the science and biology syllabuses. Hard copies of many tests, answer booklets, web addresses, worksheets, quizzes and games are also available in a filing cabinet in one of the preparation areas.
The lessons observed were well structured and the instructions to students were clear and concise. A variety of methodologies was employed in each lesson. These included group work, brainstorming, use of models, quiz, overhead projector, investigative practical work, board work, worksheets and ICT.
Questioning was used effectively in a number of lessons visited where the teacher encouraged students to expand and elaborate on their answers in order to give a full and clear explanation. This approach promotes higher-order thinking in the students and is indicative of high teacher expectations. Where chorus answering occurred, teachers discouraged this immediately and made way for one student to provide a response which was audible to the remainder of the group. Most student responses indicated a sound understanding of scientific concepts and good scientific literacy, which is praiseworthy. A good rapport existed between students and their teachers. Teachers frequently provided affirmation to their students and encouraged them to be actively involved in the lesson. This created a mutually respectful atmosphere between the students and their teachers. Overall, the ways in which teachers managed their students visibly contributed to the creation of a positive learning environment.
Effective use of ICT was observed in a number of lessons. This included PowerPoint presentations, CD-ROMs and animations and video clips which had been downloaded from the internet. The good visual approach was further enhanced by the use of models, exemplar materials and wall charts. The variety incorporated into the teaching methodologies coupled with teacher-led discussions served to encourage students to contribute, query and engage with the lesson content. Best practice was observed when the text book was used as a resource to support teaching, rather than the main focus of classroom activity. In a minority of instances, however, there was a tendency towards over-reliance on the textbook. Methodologies such as paired learning and paired tutoring were used in some senior cycle classes and these proved to be good methods of encouraging student learning.
Observation of students’ notebooks and practical books indicated that the skills being developed were appropriate in terms of their nature and the standards achieved. The notebooks and practical books were generally well maintained. Most students were confident and competent in the organisation of worksheets and the presentation of written work. It is important that teachers remind students of best practice in this area at appropriate intervals.
The pacing of lessons was generally good and it was optimal where time had been built into the lesson structure to allow for summary and recapitulation. This is a very effective method of reinforcing the lesson content. Where experimental work was carried out, results were discussed as a class group at the conclusion of the practical activity and the key points were noted on the board. This structured approach is commended.
Teachers’ records, which were made available at the beginning of the lessons visited, provided information on student achievement in class tests as well as attendance and homework records. Communication with parents takes the form of a written report at each half term and at the annual parent-teacher meetings. Some teachers also use the student journal to report on progress.
Common science tests are administered at the end of the school year. In second year these include a percentage for coursework. This is good practice. Commendably, the science department has developed homework and assessment policies. These include the aims and objectives of homework, types of homework and commendably, the length of time which should be spent by students on homework.
A sample of students’ notebooks observed showed evidence of regular checking and annotation by teachers. Where exercises have been checked and commented upon by the teacher it is important that students act on these corrections in order to consolidate the learning process. It is recommended that the science team should develop procedures for follow-up on exercises that have been checked and annotated by the teacher. These could then be included in the science department’s homework and assessment policies.
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 November 2008