An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of Science

REPORT

 

Crescent College Comprehensive S.J.

Dooradoyle, Limerick

Roll number: 81014R

 

Date of inspection: 22 October 2008

 

 

 

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science

 

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Science 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers.

 

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

The school supports Science through having it as a core subject and through having the four science subjects as senior cycle options. Biology is the subject that is taken by most students at senior level and more students choose Agricultural Science than choose either Physics or Chemistry. The number of students taking Physics or Chemistry is comparatively low. The school should address this through the schoolís guidance department and the science department providing junior cycle students with information on the nature of the senior cycle physical science subjects and on the opportunities opened up by their study.††

 

The teachers of the classes inspected are commended on the work that they do and the extent of the student practical work that is carried out. It is considered however that the sizes of these classes are too large to facilitate the performance by students of practical work in the investigative manner required by the syllabus. A further concern is the fact that Science in junior cycle is not allocated any double lesson periods. This again makes the effective teaching of Science more difficult. School management is recommended to review its present policies in relation to class size and the provision of double lesson periods for Science.

††

All students take Science in Transition Year (TY). However student practical work and the achievement of the TY aim of independent learning by students are impeded by the large class sizes and the non-provision of double class periods for studentsí practical work. Science classes in TY should be of an appropriate size and should, where possible, be allocated a double lesson period for student practical work. The TY science plan should be reviewed so as to include more Physics and Chemistry and to give more detail on the learning objectives of TY Science and how they are to be achieved. The website of the Royal Society of Chemistry (http://www.rsc.org/Education/ Teachers/index.asp) has a section with material that would be useful for TY. The Institute of Physics (IOP) website also includes some ideas and material that should be referred to when planning for Physics in TY. (http://ireland.iop.org/ activity/education/Transition Year Physics /TY_Physics_Modules_and_Project_Ideas /page_25873.html). A modularised approach where teachers would teach modules in their specialist subjects should be considered. It is suggested that a key objective of TY Science should be its use to upgrade studentsí skills in laboratory work so as to prepare them for senior science student-based laboratory work.

The schoolís laboratories are well equipped and safe storage of laboratory chemicals has been addressed in each laboratory and preparation area. Appropriate safety notices and safety equipment were in evidence. The teachers are commended on the extent to which charts, displays of scientific interest, and examples of studentsí work are on the walls of the laboratories. The use of the schoolís laboratories for subjects other than science subjects and the potential safety issues arising from having large classes for Science should be reviewed. Expertise from outside the school should be consulted as necessary.

 

The science laboratories are equipped for use of information and communication technologies (ICT) and ICT is used in presenting lessons and also to some extent in lessons. The science team has taken its use of ICT a stage further through the development of a dedicated common web site or moodle. The science teachers are commended on this and are encouraged to further develop their use of ICT in science lessons, in particular for data logging.

 

All students take Science including those with special educational needs. To support this there are links with the schoolís special education department and the science teachers are made aware by the special education department of the needs of individual students as they relate to Science. To support the professional attitude of the science department in relation to students receiving learning support and students with special educational needs the department should build further into its planning the approaches to be adopted. Further training should be considered on differentiation in teaching and learning.†

 

 

Planning and preparation

 

Subject department planning is well developed in the science department with regular formal meetings and frequent informal meetings. The position of co-ordinator rotates. The departmentís planning file is evidence of a considerable amount of co-operation. In particular the department is praised for the quality of its documentation of practices in relation to planning for students with special educational needs, homework, and allocation of students to classes. `The inclusion of a section on the primary science curriculum in the plan is also commended.

 

Subject planning extends over room allocation, resource sharing, and sharing of good practice. In recent times the departmentís moodle has become a main focus for sharing. The science teachers are commended on the commitment that they have shown in subject planning.††

 

Curricular planning for Science has resulted in a joint plan for teaching and learning for first year through to third year. This plan is stated in terms of learning outcomes and the approximate number of class periods taken to achieve them. The teachers are commended on this work and are encouraged to develop it further through including teaching methodologies, resources and assessment in the common plan, as well as space for reflection by the teacher. A similar approach should be taken in relation to TY. It is suggested that the departmentís overall planning document should be divided into a number of sections for ease of use.

 

It is suggested that planning for first-year science should take account of the need to develop studentsí skills in writing up the practical work that they perform, skills at performing practical work, and general laboratory procedures. This may imply a reduction in the content to be covered in first year.

 

 

Teaching and learning

 

It is evident from the lessons observed that the science teachers share a commitment to achieving the best experience of Science and the best outcomes for each student. High quality teaching and learning was observed in almost all lessons. Each lesson observed showed clear evidence of detailed and careful planning. Lessons frequently explicitly linked the material being covered with studentsí previous work and commenced and ended with homework assignments. All lessons were well paced with each student in each class attending to and engaged with the topic of the lesson. A highly commendable feature of each lesson was the efficient use that was made of the time available.

 

The practice, evident in some lessons, of sharing learning objectives of lessons with the class at the outset of a lesson should be extended to all lessons so that students are drawn into a greater level of responsibility for the lesson. The range of methodologies in use in lessons was commendably wide, including the use of the data projector in many lessons. This meant that the presentation and development of lesson topics were efficiently covered, leaving time for questioning by teachers to ascertain studentsí understanding. The textbook was used appropriately to complement and support the topic being covered in lessons. Students could use the text for revision and for homework. Worksheets were used appropriately and in many lessons links that were made between the lesson topic and studentsí lives served to stimulate studentsí interest.

 

Commendably student experimental work was carried out in almost all of the classes observed. The work seen was well planned, well organised, and well carried out and students were fully engaged. Teachers are highly commended. However, with only a single lesson period available for this work considerable, perhaps excessive, demands are being made on the teachers. It is considered that carrying out student experimental work on this timescale also reduces the time available to address the learning points of the lesson and hinders the development in students of the skills of planning for, and learning from, investigative work. That said, however, one very good example was observed of a class reflection on an experiment that had been performed.

 

Because of the small size of the laboratories in relation to the number of students in each class effective classroom management had a high priority, not least for reasons of safety. This was evident to a very high level in each of the classes. In all lessons observed there was very good student-teacher rapport and student discipline was well maintained. Students were actively involved in each lesson and contributed well. In some lessons, perhaps because of time constraints, the class was over-dominated by the teacher and would have benefited from a greater extent of questioning of students and soliciting studentsí contributions.†† †

 

Students participated well in all lessons and were affirmed by their teachers. Students also worked together well in carrying out their laboratory work. Students were learning in all of the lessons observed.

 

 

Assessment

 

The science teachers show very good practice in organising for first years a science project that serves for some as a preparation for later entry into the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition competition. As well as end-of-term and mock examinations students of Science have a range of other assessments each year. Students achieve well in the State examinations in the science subjects and the school monitors the performance of the schoolís students against the national averages in each subject. Building on this and the collaborative work that they have done on classroom assessment, the science department should have common assessments, at least at the end of each year.

Students have notebooks for class notes, homework, and records of practical work carried out. The teachers are commended on the systems that they have individually developed for these and on the records kept by them of studentsí attendance, homework, and assessment marks. While teachers regularly monitor studentsí notebooks, there is a variation in the extent to which it is done and in the level of follow up. The department should consider having a joint approach to the role of student notebooks and practical records, and to their monitoring by teachers.

 

In monitoring studentsí work teachers should include brief comments that praise aspects that are well done and that suggest in simple and direct ways what students can do to improve their work. Such formative assessment practice accords with the advice given by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment on its web site (Assessment for Learning). Teachers should follow up on any comment made by them on studentsí work and should also consider how they might give credit in end-of-term examinations to students for their performance of practical work and of homework.†

 

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

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 June 2009