EPQ: Taming the Dragon

Many will recognise 23rd April as that of St George’s Day; the day the patron saint of England defeated the dastardly dragon and saved the beautiful princess.  For many of our Lower Sixth, a similar victory was claimed, namely the submission of their Extended Projects.  The EPQ might have felt like a dragon for some, especially given the year we have experienced, for it can be an unpredictable beast.  To extend this metaphor, the students’ quest is to choose a topic of personal interest, which will take them on an extensive learning journey that will challenge them both practically and intellectually.  We ‘supervisors’ offer guidance along the way with regard to planning, research, presenting and reviewing their progress on their set learning journey, ensuring they are armed with the necessary skills and equipment to proceed, but the rest is up to them.

At the start of this quest, our so called ‘knights’ select their topic and, after some initial research, establish their proposed outcome or goal.  The essay they are working towards must be empirical in its nature and therefore unsupported discussion and opinion will not do. They must conduct a good degree of research and measure it against their initial hypothesis.  Inevitably things do not go according to plan.  Some discover their question is too broad and therefore the quantity of research too vast to achieve in the given time; others that there is not enough credible research available and that conspiracy theories and bias surround emotive topics. For a few, they change their hypothesis altogether discovering their original thoughts and understanding of a complex topic are flawed.  Either way, lessons are learned about their own abilities and that obstacles are part of the process, but they can always be overcome. 

Those who are successful will need to have planned their route carefully, ensuring allowances and flexibility are given to the inevitable obstacles and challenges along the way.  They should feel comfortable to alter the plan when deadlines seem unachievable, considering what is feasible and how it fits in with the many other tasks.  It is the planning element that most students find the most challenging as, till now, they have been marshalled through life by their caring parents and teachers.  Although nominal deadlines are set, the students need to establish their own working patterns, breaking their final outcome into mid and short term goals, leading to the final product of a 5000 word essay or,  an artefact with an accompanying report . 

Projects this year have included the following questions: 

  • Can the investment in space travel be justified? 
  • Was the subprime market solely responsible for the financial crisis of 2008? 
  • Did foreign invasions have the most significant impact on the fall of the Byzantine Empire? 
  • How has Russia's lack of warm water ports influenced development in Russia to show geography's relevance influencing development?

Whatever the outcome, the learning journey the students experience is of enormous benefit as they become increasingly independent in preparing for life after Felsted.  This dragon, it turns out, is no terrifying beast.  Instead, if handled sensitively and with a greater understanding, they discover that it is really an amenable creature which will lead them on to ever greater journeys of discovery. 

Sixth Form at Felsted