Investigative Practical Work through the Extended Project
Dr John Taylor, Rugby school
Dr Liz Swinbank, University of York
The Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) is a qualification equivalent to 0.5 GCE A-level that gives students the opportunity to explore a topic of their own choosing and, in the process to develop a range of research, critical and communication skills.
An EP doesn’t have to be a practical but a practical investigation or field study makes an excellent complement to any of the A level sciences.
The project-shaped space – Why do project work?
Pursue a special interest Inspiration/motivation Link to future study/career UCAS form/interview
The Extended Project Qualification is worth 0.5 GCE A-level (up to 70 UCAS points). Like the A level the grades are A star to E. It should have 120 Guided Learning Hours over 1-2 years. There is scope for a wide variety of projects. The assessment criteria relate to the quality of work rather than specified content. It is supervised and marked by teachers. It is moderated and awarded by EDEXCEL, AQA and OCR. It is welcomed by universities and the DfE.
The EPQ received praise for developing many of the academic skills identified as problems …. Interviewees though that one benefit of the EPQ was that it encouraged reflection across a wide range of content and issues.
Higher education admissions staff are very keen on and positive about the extended project. They have been known to make alternate offers sometimes such as A star, A, A excluding the EPQ and A star, A, B including the EPQ. The qualification provides the thinking skills that they are interested in.
Elizabeth Truss MP speaking about reforming qualifications and the curriculum to better prepare pupils for life after school (17th March 2013 at IOE London) said “The EPQ develops and rewards creative and independent thought as well as research and planning. It represents the best of education, in that it is rigorous and demanding as well as adaptable and fun. Universities speak positively about it and recognise it gives applicants the chance to develop research and academic skills that are highly relevant for higher education”.
EDEXCEL has four project units:
Written reports – dissertation;
Written reports – investigation/field study;
Performance or events;
At the moment unit 2 is the least popular.
A good EP is extended, structured, focused and an investigation/fieldwork EP is also data driven.
The EPQ: Extension
It gives broadening skills, widening perspectives and deepening understanding. It is not simply a big piece of subject-based coursework.
The EPQ: Structure
120 guided learning hours (which do not need to be spent in a lab)
Taught course at the start for preparation for the coursework
Literature research and review
Discussion and evaluation
The EPQ; Taught course
Students need to be taught how to learn independently They need to develop skills, and explore potentially fruitful areas for further enquiry, before embarking on project work The taught course is a key factor for success Teachers need to provide the scaffolding, then move to a facilitating role “Better a guide at the side than a sage on the stage”
The project proposal/project title
What makes a good investigation?
It is focussed; Puts forward controversial questions;
Has a hypothesis to be tested;
Has scope for extension;
Has scope for development (a journey).
Examples of Physics-based (don’t worry you don’t have to do physics)
How does solar activity affect the weather
Do “sharkskin” swimsuits give the wearer an unfair advantage?
Would reclaiming and reusing the rare earth elements from ipads be economically viable?
Over its working lifetime, does the energy output from a photovoltaic solar panel exceed the energy required to make, install and operate it?
EPQ analysis can include secondary data (e.g. from the internet) as well as the student’s own primary data.
Some suggested investigation/project titles (for physics)
Measure e/m for electrons
Meteorite impact craters
How does shape memory metal work?
A study of quantum tunnelling compound
Could the Manhattan project be justified
Framework for an investigation/fieldwork EP report
Lab/field work (Methodology/experimental design,
Primary data collection,
Secondary data and data analysis)
Doing the project
Students must write up as they go Work on one section at a time Start with a literature review Do a pilot study before the main Lab/fieldwork Hold class seminars/reporting back sessions Teachers must check for plagiarism and ensure that students write an introduction, abstract and a conclusion/evaluation
What makes a good EPQ
Focus on hypothesis Consider research methodology Collection of primary data Research into relevant secondary sources Data analysis; graphical and/or statistical techniques Consideration of significance of results Careful editing and structure of report Self-reflective evaluation including critique of methodology
“I was just writing to let you know how useful the EPQ was in setting me up for any sort of systematic review and extended research. Although I still felt thrown in the deep end with this job I am sure: 1) I would not have not have as good a chance of even getting an interview let alone getting a job without the background I had in extended research and 2) I would have not been able to cope anywhere near as well if I had not done my project”
Other types of physics based EPQ Dissertation
Why did the titanic sink?
Are wind turbines a good solution to the energy crises?
Can we justify human space exploration?
Is it possible to believe in God and the Big Bang?
Were the Moon landings fake?
Are we alone in the universe?
How did the Copernican paradigm shift affect subsequent developments in cosmology?
Is wi-fi safe?
Design, make and test a sundial (spectrometer, telescope … etc.)
Is it possible to revive the engine of a Ferguson TEF tractor?
Explore an incidence or issue through drama (c.f. Trial of Galileo, Heisenberg’s visit to Bohr in Copenhagen, …etc.)
Explore a concept through an exhibition of images (e.g. images on many scales)
Resources for the EPQ
Level 3 Extended Project Student Guide ISBN 978 1 84690 363 2
Edexcel Pearson 2009 Teacher Resource Disc ISBN 978 1 84690 361 8 Edexcel Pearson 2009
AQA Extended Project Companion Nelson Thornes
OCR Extended Project Guide Hodder Education
Free EPQ resources are available from http://www.york.ac.uk/education/projects/project-qualifications/
If you are interested and about to start A levels or you are in year 12 have a chat with your teachers about starting an EPQ.