junior cert

Horrendous:Average mark in Junior Science H.L written exam is 55%

I was browsing through the Chief Examiner’s report (as one does) for the Junior Cert science exam 2006 and found buried amongst all the text and statistics the following unbelievable nugget: the average mark for the written exam was 55%.
I couldn’t find any data on 2007 or 2008, so I don’t know if things have changed in the meantime or not.


This is after three years work. In hindsight it would have been more useful if it was one percentage point lower in that we could then conclude that the average mark didn’t merit an honour and maybe drastic action could have been taken. Maybe for that matter action has been taken, but again I couldn’t find any comment or reference to this anythere.

I can see why this statistic didn’t cause a furore at the time: the overall mark turned out to be 67%, so most students would have been (relatively) happy with that. This was due to the combining of the written exam with the two other sections.
Coursework A: (recording of experiment work over the three years) is worth 10% of the overall mark and the average mark here was 98%.
Coursework B: (based on a report of two seperate investigations) is worth 25% of the overall mark and the average mark here was 85%.

But stilll.

The standard explanantion for this is that students no longer have a choice in the paper, so all questions need to be answered. This is certainly a large contributory factor, but when I looked over the papers for 2006, 2007 and 2008 there was another shock. I concentrated on Physics and found that the hardest topic – Electricity – accounted for over one fifth of all the marks on the physics sections.
Three other sections featured very strongly; Heat, Light and Energy, and all other topics were then very much hit-or-miss as regards whether they featured or not.

Some of the questions within each section were also ridiculous. I have listed some of the worst offenders in a submission to the editor of SCIENCE, the in-house journal for members of the ISTA (Irish Science Teachers Association). The full article can be accessed below: on the top-right there is the option to toggle for the full screen.

I included in the document a link to this posting so hopefully we will receive some feedback (the next edition of the journal goes out towards the end of May) .

What think you?


Junior Cert Revision




To access the Junior Cert Revision document, simply right-lick on the link below and then choose ‘Save Target As’ to save it to your computer

Junior Cert Revision Schedule

Revision is one of those areas where I suspect some of us fall down.
Particulary at Christmas time, I tend to forget that while the top students seem to have no problem knowing what to learn and how to plan their revision, us lesser mortals could do with a bit of guidance.

While there are plenty of students who won’t open a book over Christmas (and good luck to you), for those who are trying hard, you could probably do with a little guidance. Hopefully this will help.

Don’t forget to ask your teachers NICELY to help you put together a list of tasks which will help with your revision.
And say THANK YOU to Ms Marion Mcginn for coming up with the template.
Remember that you can always edit this to suit your own needs.

Good luck!

Congratulations Scifest winners!!!


I mentioned that I was trying to promote Scifest as a means of getting students to do real science as opposed to the learning by rote and following cookbook recipe-type so-called experiments. So after promoting it among second, fourth and fifth years, I ended up with about eight groups, of which seven pulled out when they realised the presentation was going to be held on a non-school day.

Which left us with ‘The Power of Poo’, a second-year entry from two girls; Georgina Gilsenan and Philippa Tuthill. This highly original project involved inserting a couple of radiators into the middle of a dung-heap, pumping water through the pipes, and noting the rise in temperature. The results obtained may not turn the planet off its axis, but there was a serious amount of science involved in controlling variables. They even tried two different dung-heaps; cow and horse!

And it won!
In three categories!
Best Junior Project.
Best overall Physics Project.
Runner-up in Best overall Project.

Unfortuantely I had to leave early in the afternoon and so wasn’t there for the prize-giving ceremony, and so don’t have any photos of the girls receiving their prizes, but if I talk nicely to their parents they might lend me some to put up here.

The irony is that after prodding and poking each of the other groups all along the way, only for them all to pull out, this was the one project which I had almost nothing to do with apart from submitting the entry.  There really shouldn’t be any teacher’s name associated with it – it really was all there own work.

Not that it will stop me shamelessy exploiting the publicity in school as a means of promoting the project again next year, with hopefully a little more commitment.

Firewalking; a wonderful introduction to heat

I introduce Heat Capacity by asking the following question: How come, when you get up in the middle of the night to take a pee, and walk across both tile and carpet, the tile seems much colder than the carpet even though in reality both are at the same temperature (room temperature)?
It introduces the concept of thermal conductivity, and also acts as a reminder to why we need objective measurements in science.

This video on firewalking would make a wonderful follow-up activity, and might just make some a little wary of  ‘life-coaches’.

Thermal conductivity and Low heat capacity; Firewalking explained in terms of taking a cake out of an oven.

Would work at both Junior or Senior cycle.

So how could you design an experiment to ascertain who is right?

And then while we’re here at all, let’s look at an intertaining presentation by Michael Shermer on debunking pseudoscience.

From http://www.ted.com; part one of two. The second half is also well worth seeing.

Teaching Sound and Youtube

I’m teaching Sound with both Junior Certs and Leaving Certs at the moment.It was pretty cool to have ready access to these amazing clipsSonic Boom: very useful when discussing the Doppler Effect.As usual there are loads of related clips: Lyre bird imitating a chain-saw.Not sure about the relevance, but this has to be seen (and heard) to be believed.    Finally a quick search for ‘Teaching Sound” brought up some nice ideas here:We need more of this – it’s so easy to exchange ideas. Thanks Mr Noon  

Junior Cert Science Investigations

Our third years have started their junior cert investigations. The physics version is to compare the insulating ability of different materials.

Seems very basic, in fact too simple to qualify as an investigation at this level.

Until you try it out.

I don’t have third years this year but I walked in to PO’s class to see how he was getting on . They were starting off with a control: Putting 100 ml of water into an uninsulated calorimeter and plotting a cooling curve.
But they ran into problems straight away. It took ages for the water to cool down from a starting temp of 80 degrees.  So they are wondering how they will manage when it is insulated.

One student came up with the clever idea of using a set time and noting the temperature drop for different materials.

Others suggested using a smaller volume of water to begin with. So then we had to decide which was the best idea, and more importantly how would we decide which was the best idea.

Test them by experiment – bingo. 

Now we were getting into it. Conflicting ideas, not quite getting published in a peer-reviewed journal, but nevertheless good stuff. Next we will look at whether we can carry out valid comparisons, but just arguing over it introduces a personal ownership factor as opposed to just following the traditional cook-book receipe.

Then there is still the issue of making sure ‘amounts’ are equal; equal by volume or equal by mass?
And oh my goodness, what if there is no one right answer?

Their homework was to come up with their own ‘hypothesis’; not which was the best insulating material, but rather which is the best way to test this.
Then the bell went and they reminded us that we wouldn’t see them again until  January.
Oh well.

I discussed this with PO last year.
The key is for us teachers to get comfortable with this approach and try to adapt all experiments so that they can be carried out in this manner. There may just be hope for us yet.

‘Story with Global Warming not on the syllabus?

The nice thing about Global Warming is that it that it may very well wipe us out as a species in the next couple of hundred years.
It is the single greatest catastrophe to hit human-kind EVER.

And in the grand scheme of things we couldn’t say we didn’t deserve it, or that we haven’t been warned.

Because it’s effects are not affecting us directly at this moment in time we just choose to bury our heads in the sand.
It’s like the story of the frog in the pot:
If you throw a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will jump out instantly.
Yet, if you were to place it in a pot of cool water and slowly raise the temperature to boiling point, the frog will unsuspectingly meet its fatal demise.

You want to know what the Junior Cert Science syllabus has to say about this calamity?
Consider the following.
Junior Cert Biology:
Consider and discuss how human activity affects the environment, both positively and negatively (two examples in each case).

Junior Cert Physics:
List the advantages and disadvantages of different energy sources of energy, including nuclear sources of energy, as part of the solution to national energy needs.

Actually scratch that last one.
Apparently we only need to look at energy in terms of out national energy needs, not in terms of the fact that we are the single worst thing to ever happen this planet.
So that’s allright then.

Junior Cert Chemistry:
Not a cracker.

So how about the Leaving Cert?
Well let’s see.
There’s nothing in Biology (hopefully somebody will prove me wrong here) and nothing in Leaving Cert Physics.
Leaving Cert Chemistry does go into it in some detail (for the small percentage of students who do it at this level):
The greenhouse effect and the influence of human activity on it,
and later;
Possible implications of the increased greenhouse effect.

Well here’s one Possible effect of the greenhouse effect for you;
Your children may very well be the last generation to live what we now regard as a ‘normal’ life, and it may very well be too late for us to do anything about it now even if we did want to.
And let’s face it; with the current demand for chelsea tractors in this country, anything we do will amount to little more than lip-service.

And we can’t even say we didn’t deserve it.

Sweet dreams!