Being a good scientist is more than just knowing about the subject; it is being able to do it. That does not mean just repeating the experiments of the past but being able to design and perform your own experiments using modern techniques and technology. Through Years 9-11 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 working 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 safeguarding.
The role of the teacher is to act as a mentor/critical friend, providing feedback and helping students to remain on task, to develop their own ideas and understanding.
Challenge Projects enable students to 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 developed on the project work itself, students also gain self-confidence from this experience.
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 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. These projects are particularly helpful in allowing students to try out areas of study that they may want to continue with in the future.
Extended Project Qualification (EPQ)
As part of the Challenge Project all students complete the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ). Students get considerable time and support in College to help and they have also had extensive experience of working on projects before they start so the 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 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.