An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Roll number: 76069P
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Chemistry
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Phobail Ros Cré. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science and Chemistry 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.
Whole-school support for Science is good as Coláiste Phobail Ros Cré offers all available programmes and commendably there is a science component in each one. Significantly, Science is a core subject for Junior Certificate; science is timetabled in Transition Year (TY) as Biology and Agricultural Science. In keeping with TY philosophy it was observed in the programme that modules of Forensic Science, Sports’ Science and Horticulture are planned for in TY. The provision of opportunities for students to study aspects of Science outside the traditional science curriculum is very good practice. Elective modules are taken in Science by Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) students, the provision of which is applauded, particularly in view of its acceptance as an entry requirement for some beauty therapy courses. In addition the school offers Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Agricultural Science as optional subjects. This commitment to enhancing students’ scientific literacy is commended.
The time allocation is slightly below the time recommended in syllabus guidelines due to the operation of thirty-five minute classes. The school should endeavour to resolve this anomaly. In addition, care should be taken in future timetabling to ensure as much as possible that lessons are distributed evenly across the week for all class groups as is currently the case for most classes. Classes are of mixed ability in first year. In both second year and third year, the top four class groups are banded together and the bottom two groups are banded together for all subjects. It was reported that within these separate bands, mixed-ability teaching is in operation. Classes retain the same teacher from second through to third year in junior cycle and again for Leaving Certificate. This is good practice as it supports continuity of learning. There is concern that this year in particular, a significant number of students completed Science at ordinary level for the Junior Certificate. Therefore it is recommended that strategies be devised to encourage a greater proportion of students to perform at the higher level so that they reach their full potential. It is important that they are retained at higher level for as long as is practicable.
There is good support for students in making senior-cycle subject choices. The supports available to students include access to career guidance. Parents are also involved in the decision-making process. It is good to note a ‘best-fit’ model operates for optional subjects at senior cycle. To further encourage the uptake of the physical science subjects in senior cycle, and to ensure that the subjects remain viable options in the school, it is recommended that the school examine the factors influencing students’ choice of subjects. The results of this examination should inform future subject and curricular planning and support subject uptake among students in the physical sciences.
The school has a learning-support department that it is understood communicates with the science teachers as necessary. During the course of the inspection concern was expressed that a small minority of students who had significant literacy problems did not have access to learning support. Strategies should be devised to ensure that all students who require support are provided with such help.
All students have substantial access to the laboratories. The school has four laboratories in two separate buildings and three different areas. Management provides financial support for the maintenance of necessary materials and resources, and the purchase of equipment on a needs basis. This is good practice. The well-stocked laboratories provide evidence of successful planning for resources. The updating of resources is generally done on an individual basis as different pairs of teachers are based in a specific laboratory. The two laboratories in the new building have an interconnecting preparation and storage area. Significant work has been done on the storage of chemicals that are stored according to Department of Education and Science guidelines. However, care should be taken to ensure oxidisers are stored as far away from the flammable chemicals as possible and that chemicals are never stored in the fume cupboard, even for a short period of time. To enhance the good work that has been done in this regard, it is recommended that the purchase of a flame resistant press be prioritised for the safe storage of flammable chemicals.
The two laboratories in the old building have separate storage areas. In these areas, chemicals are not stored according to safety guidelines. It is recommended, as a matter of urgency, that this matter is rectified and that these chemicals be stored according to Department of Education and Science guidelines and best safety practice. Light switches should not be in the chemical stores. In addition these storage areas are not appropriately ventilated, and these laboratories have no electrical isolation switches, issues that should be immediately addressed by management. A good level of safety equipment such as fire extinguishers, fire blankets and safety glasses is available in all laboratories. Laboratory safety rules and hazard symbols are on display. Commendably science teachers were consulted during the review of the school’s health and safety statement.
The science department’s resources include overhead projectors, at least one computer in each laboratory and a total of two data projectors. Data logging equipment that is also located in the new building has been purchased for the teaching of Science, and some laboratories have internet access. Management is to be commended on the provision of these facilities. The science department needs to plan for the upgrading of their information and communications technologies’ (ICT) equipment so that all computers are compatible with both the data projectors and all software that is in use for the teaching and learning of science. Notwithstanding the demand of the Post Leaving Certificate courses, the school needs to explore the feasibility of increasing the access to the four computer rooms for the teaching and learning of the sciences.
In some instances students have the opportunity to participate in co-curricular science activities such as ecology fieldtrips and cross-curricular activities with Physical Education, a scheme that is encouraged. Those involved are to be praised for their commitment to facilitating these educational activities. Management is praised on the commitment given to facilitate continuing professional development. All teachers have had the opportunity to attend Department of Education and Science in-career development in the sciences. Two of the teachers are involved in a mentoring programme in the University of Limerick and a teacher has completed a Masters in Education (Science) in recent years. This dedication of teachers is commended. It is significant that the school supports the teachers in their membership of the Irish Science Teachers’ Association. The operation of an induction programme for new teachers is applauded.
The science department is commended on the initiation of subject planning. The good work that has commenced that includes an outline of the programme of work for first-year Science should be further developed to include a common programme of work for second year and for third year. In addition, timeframes, resources employed and suggested teaching methodologies could be incorporated into the plans over time, along with the programmes of work for the senior-cycle science subjects. In one instance, the equipment for the Junior Certificate mandatory investigations has been organised in a systematic manner, a practice that is highly commended and is indicative of a good level of co-operation among the teachers. It is suggested that this good practice be extended.
Management is applauded for facilitating subject planning meetings and it is noted that minutes are kept. As the laboratories are in two sites, for ease of formal communication among all members of the science department, it is recommended that a co-ordinator be put in place. Such a position could be rotated on a regular basis. This would further facilitate subject planning, would assist in developing a co-ordinated approach to planning for resources and for the enhancement and utilisation of ICT within the department.
A good level of planning was observed for individual lessons. These included equipment, chemicals, handouts and acetates, all of which supported the teaching and learning of the sciences.
Laboratories that are enhanced by plants, scientific models and a range of posters, provide a visually stimulating environment for the teaching and learning of the sciences. Classroom management was good and a good teacher/student rapport was observed in a relaxed learning environment. Students’ contributions were encouraged and affirmed in all lessons.
Lessons were well structured and the pace was appropriate in almost all instances. In one lesson brainstorming was very successfully employed to ascertain students’ previous knowledge of a topic. Care should be taken that when planning lessons time is factored in for review to facilitate consolidation of learning. In lessons where short practical activities and questioning were employed, students were actively engaged and participated well. It is recommended that active learning methodologies be adopted in classroom practice, on a regular basis, to encourage learner independence and autonomy. Questioning was successfully employed to review previous learning and in some instances probing questions were effective in developing lesson content. Students should be encouraged to answer on an individual basis to facilitate the participation of all. There was evidence of good use of the board and ICT to highlight significant points and to provide visual images during lessons.
Teachers employed a range of strategies to support learning. For example, teacher demonstration of the effect of an electromagnetic field helped illustrate a difficult concept. Discussion on the effect of dipping a spoon into boiled water made the subject of conduction tangible to students. Students’ use of mapping compasses successfully linked the topic to everyday life. This is commended. Consideration should be given to employing a variety of approaches when revising topics. In addition to the completion of examination questions, a practice that is applauded, methods such as student demonstration, students’ identification of the key words and concepts of a particular topic and other active learning methodologies could be considered. Approaches such as peer correction of examination questions and students’ presentations that focused on a specific topic and or examination question could be utilised.
In a minority of instances, an investigative approach to students’ practical work was employed. This increased students’ motivation and enthusiasm and facilitated collaborative work. An investigative approach to teaching science is an underlying principle of the revised science syllabus and should be employed to a greater extent in order to facilitate the development of science process skills and to prepare students for the assessment B component of Junior Certificate Science. Where students participated in hands-on practical activities, it was observed that they worked well, their skills were good and the teachers constantly moved about the laboratory giving appropriate attention and support to individuals. Due regard was paid to safety procedures at all times. This is commended. In some instances following students’ practical work, a plenary session was employed to consolidate learning, a strategy that should be used in all practical lessons.
Formal examinations are held at Christmas for all classes, and in the summer for the non-examination classes. State examination classes also have pre-examinations. There is some evidence of other tests being administered at the discretion of the teacher during class time. Common assessment is employed at the end of first year. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all year groups as it provides for standardisation of students’ learning across a year group.
Formative assessment, for all classes, is carried out on an ongoing basis by questioning in class and tests. There was evidence of regularly assigned homework to consolidate students’ learning in class and in some instances this was monitored and annotated. Consideration should be given to the increased employment of the desirable practice of teacher annotation, which reflects the principle of assessment for learning (AfL). Further information on AfL can be accessed at www.ncca.ie.
All students have laboratory notebooks or files in which they record their investigative work. The inclusion of practical work in a scheme of continuous assessment that occurs in some instances is commended. It is recommended that this good practice be extended, as it provides motivation for engagement by all students with the practical elements of the course. Such practice reflects the assessment objectives of the Junior Certificate Science syllabus, and provides a more accurate indicator of a student’s ability in the subject.
There was evidence of recording of attendance rates, and assessment in teachers’ journals. This is good practice as it helps to build a profile of students’ progress and achievement in the subject over a period of time. The school has a policy of analysing State examination results. A good level of contact is maintained between the school and parents. In addition to twice-yearly reports, ongoing information regarding students’ progress is also given to parents through the students’ journals, and annual parent-teacher meetings.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The provision of Science in all programmes, including LCA, is commended. Science is a core subject for Junior Certificate. The provision of Agricultural Science, Biology, Chemistry and Physics in senior cycle is commended.
· Teachers’ commitment to continuing professional development is highly commended.
· Collaboration and co-operation among the science teachers, has facilitated the development of a common programme of work for first-year Science.
· A good rapport exists between students and teachers, which helps foster an atmosphere that is conducive to students’ learning.
· Teachers employed a range of successful strategies to support learning.
· Common assessment is employed at the end of first year, thus facilitating standardisation across the year group.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Strategies should be devised to encourage a greater proportion of students to perform at the higher level so that they reach their full potential and all students who require learning support should be provided with such help.
· Management should immediately address all safety issues, including the safe storage of chemicals in the old laboratories.
· A co-ordinator should be put in place. Such a position could be rotated on a regular basis. This would further facilitate subject planning, would assist in developing a co-ordinated approach to planning for resources and for the enhancement and utilisation of ICT within the department.
· The good work that has commenced that includes an outline of the programme of work for first-year Science should be further developed to include a common programme of work for second year and for third year.
· An investigative approach to teaching Science should be employed to a greater extent.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Science and Chemistry and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published September 2008