An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physics and Science
De La Salle College
Churchtown, Dublin 14
Roll number: 60310E
Date of inspection: 24 February 2009
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN PHYSICS AND SCIENCE
This report has been written following a subject inspection in De La Salle College Churchtown, conducted as part of a whole school evaluation. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Physics and Science and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of these subjects 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 of Physics and Science.
Science is a core subject on the junior cycle curriculum in De La Salle College, Churchtown. There are currently three class groups formed in each year of junior cycle so that numbers of students in each class group are between sixteen and twenty students. This is commendable practice. Students generally retain the same teacher each year for Science throughout junior cycle and for Physics at senior cycle.
Modules in Physics, Chemistry and Biology are offered as part of the compulsory Transition Year (TY) programme in the school. Each module lasts ten weeks and offers applied aspects of each subject through activity-based learning. This is commended. The physics course is mainly based on the ‘Intel Design and Discovery’ course which is a project-based learning module.
There is very good provision of science subjects for Leaving Certificate with Physics, Chemistry and Biology offered to students and provided on the curriculum. Subject choice is well supported with information provided to parents and students; subject teachers, together with the guidance department, provide good support to students in making an informed choice. There is currently one class group of Physics, Chemistry and Biology in each of fifth and sixth year. Uptake of Physics is good with nineteen students in fifth year and fourteen students in sixth year.
The timetable allocation to Science at junior cycle and Physics at senior cycle is in line with syllabus requirements. Each science module in Transition Year is scheduled for one single and one double lesson period for the duration of the module and this is good provision.
The school has three well maintained teacher-based science laboratories. Each laboratory has access to an adjacent preparation and storage facility. Equipment and materials were stored in an orderly fashion. The work of science teachers in this regard is highly commended. The purchase of resources for science teaching is approved by management on a needs basis. Information and communication technology (ICT) has been provided in each laboratory in the form of data-projectors, computers, broadband access, robots and data logging equipment. This is commended. In addition, a portable hard drive is available with very good teaching resources for the subjects. To enable these resources to be shared across the science department and to be accessible from multiple locations across the school, it is recommended that consideration be given to placing this material on the school’s computer network system.
The school’s health and safety statement dates back to 2004 and is therefore in need of immediate review. This policy should be updated annually. Good health and safety practices were observed during lessons and in the organisation of the laboratories. Laboratory rules were on clear display in all laboratories. However, chemical storage requires further attention. It is therefore recommended that chemicals be stored in line with best health and safety practice and Department of Education and Science guidelines. Flame proof cabinets should be provided for all flammable materials, storage of chemicals should be colour coded and adequate ventilation should be provided in the chemical store. It is commendable that the school addressed recommendations from a previous science inspection report on fume-hood provision in the chemistry laboratory.
Student participation in extra-curricular and out-of-school activities includes participation in SciFest at Tallaght Institute of Technology, attendance at a Tyndall lecture and visits from past-pupils who work or carry out research in the field of Science.
Continuous professional development (CPD) is well supported by school management with teachers being facilitated in attending in-service courses. The school is an affiliated member of the Institute of Physics, Ireland. In addition, the school is commended in its support for, and facilitation of the science support services.
The physics department policy document is wide-ranging in that it addresses current provision for Physics in the school and plans for the future needs of the subject. Key areas addressed in the document include subject aims, skills to be developed, provision for ordinary and higher level, practical work, ICT provision including data logging, input from past pupils, recent research, CPD and assessment procedures. In addition, a scheme of work for fifth-year and sixth-year Physics was made available together with a subject plan. Planning for Science is less wide-ranging and incorporates areas including lists of topics to be covered in each year of junior cycle with some comments on methodologies, resources, homework, assessment and reporting to parents. The need for a focused subject plan for Science was highlighted in a previous science inspection report. It is therefore recommended that a comprehensive and wide-ranging science plan be developed in a collaborative way, with input from the whole science department together with senior management. The department should consult the website of the School Development Planning Initiative, (www.sdpi.ie) in this regard. This plan should outline current science provision and practice and set long-term goals for the development of Science in the school. Suggested areas for development are: strategies to increase the uptake of higher level; sharing of best practice across the science department; and future development of the TY science programme. In addition, it is recommended that the schemes of work be referenced directly to the syllabus and that these schemes outline methodologies and resources for each section of the course. To enable this process to be effectively implemented, it is recommended that a position of science co-ordinator be agreed among the science teachers and that this post be taken on a rotating basis, with the possible duties of convening meetings, facilitating the development of the science plan and liaising with senior management. It is commendable that currently, management facilitates science teachers to meet formally on a term basis and meet informally on an ongoing basis.
The content of the TY plan for Physics, Chemistry and Biology is very good with applied aspects of the subjects promoted and skills development prioritised. This is commended. In further developing the plan it is recommended that it be modified and redrafted in line with Department guidelines on writing a TY programme in the Transition Year Programmes Guidelines for Schools. It is particularly important that the TY plan incorporates built-in evaluative procedures so that it can be updated annually with feedback from students and teachers.
Teachers were very well prepared for the lessons observed. ICT and practical equipment were set up in advance and resources including handouts had been prepared in advance. There was evidence of good planning also in the content and delivery of lessons. This is highly commended.
Students were sufficiently challenged and the quality of teaching and student learning was high in all lessons visited. Lesson material was delivered with clarity. Differentiated practices were effective in that there was a good balance between whole class, small group and individual support. Students were active in learning and were directed with clear instructions as to the task in hand. Some lessons incorporated a component of student self-evaluation and this is very praiseworthy. Lessons were, in the main, well structured. Some lessons would have been further enhanced by sharing learning objectives with students at the outset and by reducing the pace of the lesson, allowing students time to respond. In addition, in some instances, students would have achieved more benefit from being delegated greater autonomy, especially during some practical lessons.
Lessons progressed seamlessly with good tasks set for students and critical thinking skills encouraged in many lessons. Student participation in lessons was very good. Lesson material was introduced, progressed and consolidated by the expert use of probing questions. Student responses were of a high quality. Science and Physics were made interesting and relevant through a deliberate effort on behalf of teachers to link the lesson content to students’ everyday experiences.
Methodologies were varied in all lessons and this enhanced the student learning experience. During one lesson observed, students were learning about heat and temperature. Students’ understanding of the topic was well developed through the expert use of relevant demonstrations, some incorporating data logging and ICT. In all instances, the questioning strategies adopted ensured that students’ critical thinking skills were developed. The lesson concluded with a short and relevant video, which consolidated student learning.
The board was used to highlight key words and concepts during many lessons visited and it is recommended that this practice be extended in an effort to consolidate student learning. In addition, the more widespread use of worksheets would help to reinforce learning in some lessons. Student research skills could be developed by assigning relevant tasks to students in advance of the introduction of a new topic in the classroom.
Students carried out practical investigations in a safe environment. It is important that students are constantly reminded to wear their safety glasses.
A very good investigative approach to practical work was adopted in all instances. For example, during one lesson where students were assigned the task of testing leaves for the presence of starch, the students had been well prepared for the assignment through the use of a focused preliminary class discussion, where questions on photosynthesis were set and answered. The students then worked diligently in small groups on the task and were productively engaged in their work. Self-evaluation was promoted when students were required to review their work and come to conclusions on the outcomes of their group activity. This is highly commended. During another lesson observed, students investigated energy-giving foods in a practical activity; students were directed to predict the outcomes of the investigation and then to test their prediction. In this lesson, the teacher also placed very good emphasis on teaching students about the validity of making comparisons and on experimental error. This is commended. In a TY lesson that was based on the national Discover Science and Engineering Discover Sensors module, students followed clear instructions on programming a robot and there was very good lesson progression with reference to examples of automation in everyday life. Students worked in small groups and successfully completed the assigned task.
Questioning was used very effectively. Questions were probing and sufficiently challenging and had the effect of consolidating student learning and building on students’ knowledge and understanding. Students were generally very confident at answering questions on their work.
The uptake of higher-level for both Physics and Science requires improvement and strategies should be put in place to encourage an increase in the uptake of higher level for these subjects.
Formal school examinations take place at Christmas and summer. Junior and Leaving Certificate classes sit ‘mock’ examinations in February. TY students are allocated a yearly grade based on an assessment of their project work and they are also assessed on a continuous basis in the modules. Class tests are ongoing and teachers maintain good records of student progress. Reports are sent to parents at Christmas and Easter and on two further occasions throughout the year. This represents a good level of reporting to parents. Contact with parents is also ongoing through parent-teacher meetings and parent information evenings.
Homework was assigned at the conclusion of all lessons visited. Homework was relevant and in accordance with the lesson content. Carefully designed worksheets may add further focus and consolidation to assigned homework and this is recommended for all class groups. The assigned homework could also include elements of student research as outlined earlier in this report. The school operates a homework club and supervised evening study as ongoing supports to students.
There was very good monitoring and ongoing annotation of students’ practical notebooks by teachers. Records of practical work were generally maintained to a good standard. However, in some individual instances the quality could improve. Therefore, it is recommended that teachers monitor corrections in student notebooks ensuring that students are given the responsibility of maintaining a high quality record of their work.
Learning support procedures are in place for students with additional needs. Links between the science department and the resource and learning support departments are good. English language support is provided for students as needed with an emphasis on key science vocabulary. This is commended.
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:
· A comprehensive and wide-ranging science plan should be developed through collaborative planning. Teachers’ schemes of work should be referenced
directly to the syllabus and should outline methodologies and resources for each section of the course.
· A position of science co-ordinator should be agreed and carried out on a rotating basis.
· The TY plan for the science modules should be modified and redrafted in line with Department guidelines.
· Learning objectives should be shared with students at the outset of lessons.
· In a few instances, the pace of lessons should be reduced and students should be delegated greater autonomy during practical work.
· The use of the board to highlight key words and concepts is a practice that should be extended. The more widespread use of worksheets and the development of research skills should be developed.
· Strategies should be put in place to encourage an increase in the uptake of higher level for both Science and Physics.
· It is recommended that teachers monitor corrections in student notebooks ensuring that students are given the responsibility of maintaining a high quality record of their work.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Physics and Science, together with the principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published February 2010