Being a good scientist is more than just knowing about the subject, it is being able to do it. That doesn’t mean just repeat the experiments of the past but being able to design and perform your own experiments using modern techniques and technology. Throughout the sixth form students engage in what we call 'Challenge Projects'. These are extended STEM based projects developed and delivered in close collaboration with partners in industry, health care and academia in association with Cambridge Academy for Science and Technology (CAST). All projects have a clear ‘challenge’ that students must overcome and some form of industry matched outcome at the end.
Teaching strategies may include seminars/masterclasses, practical activities, teaching activities, independent work and student presentations. Most projects will involve a range of activities. Whether the activities are led by partners or CAST staff will be decided in advance. Whoever is running the activity, CAST staff retain responsibility for behaviour, safety and safe guarding.
The role of the teacher is to act as a mentor/critical friend helping students to develop their own ideas and understanding, help students to remain on task and to provide feedback.
Through Challenge Projects students develop a range of knowledge and skills including:
- a practical understanding of science
- practical science skills
- an underpinning of curriculum teaching
- transferable skills such as teamwork, leadership and literacy
- careers guidance
In addition to the skills and knowledge developed on the project topic itself, these challenges also support the students in gaining self-confidence.
Where possible Challenge Projects comply with externally verified awards and certificates, such as the Baker Award, with students completing self, peer and teacher led evaluations. Students also keep track of the skills that they have learnt through competency checklists and project evaluation forms in their Portfolio of Achievement. More and more universities are asking for supra-curricular education, learning about academic subjects beyond the school curriculum, Challenge Projects ensure that our students have lots to write about on their personal statements. Similarly, apprenticeship providers and employers are looking for students with developed practical skills, Challenge projects ensure that our students have the skills to put them at the head of the queue.
Throughout sixth form, students have a choice of projects that they can choose from that cover a wide range of scientific disciplines, including biomedical, computer science, engineering, physics, chemistry and ecology. Wherever possible we aim that projects are as interdisciplinary as possible to mirror the skills that they will need in the future. Students are able to choose projects that support their academic studies, allow them to try out new areas, or just look interesting. They are particularly helpful in allowing students to try out areas of study that they may want o continue with in the future.
Extended Project Qualification
As part of the Challenge Project all students at CAST complete the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ). Students get considerable time and support to help them with this and they will have had extensive experience of working on projects before they start, so results are particularly strong. The EPQ develops or extends a variety of skills by allowing students to complete a free choice of project. This project allows learners to pursue a theme/topic based either on a subject they are already studying or in an area that is of particular personal interest. It also provides an opportunity to complete something entirely new. To support them in their project each student is assigned a mentor who will provide them with individualised support and advice.
The outcome of the project can be either:
- A performance/event design,
- A report
- A dissertation
- An artefact
The EPQ allows students to develop a range of transferable skills, including:
- Independent working
- Develop their research and investigation skills
- Problem-solving skills
- To critically engage with a theme/topic
- Development of writing and technology skills
- Communication skills
- Time management
These are skills that are particularly useful for students as they move on to university, apprenticeship and work. The qualification carries UCAS points and every year we have a number of students who gain university places as a result of this. Furthermore, a number of universities offer reduced entry offers to students with relevant EPQs and some also offer financial bursaries. The experience is also useful in demonstrating skills for those applying for apprenticeships and work.
Students really relish the opportunity to develop a project of their choice and take something that interests them to a higher level.
Some of the previous projects include:
- Studying pike behaviour
- Designing a building a motorised long board
- Creating a computer game
- Performing a magic show
- Making a ukulele
- Writing a children’s book
- Exploring the influence of botany on medicinal drug development
- Exploring the impact of class on the culture of Korea
- Making a cookbook of sustainable recipes
The range of projects is only limited by the student’s imagination!
Projects are marked according to their planning, execution, student development and evaluation. This is assessed through the submission of the final report/dissertation, reflective diary, evaluation, presentation and planning documents. We follow the OCR specification for EPQ.