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 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
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.
The Year 9 programme focusses primarily on teaching students how science is done and developing their practical skills.
The key stage 4 (Year 10 and 11) programme involves students working through a number of set projects covering a wide variety of different areas of science. The projects focus on developing students’ project-based learning, presentation, teamwork, and practical skills. Students often have a choice of the projects and subject areas that they will work in. Examples of some of the projects include: developing a science week activity to teach members of the public about drug development (with AstraZeneca); designing a hydropower station (with Mott MacDonald); creating an animation; plastic recycling; carrying out an environmental impact assessment for the Cambridge South Railway Station (with Mott MacDonald); architectural design (with Class of Your Own); and looking at the use of animals in research (with Cambridge University).
In addition to the skills developed on the project work itself, students also gain self-confidence from this experience.