Head of Preschool and Junior School discusses how her love of STEM shaped her career and her exciting plans to expand STEM provisions
As a Physics teacher turned Head of our Junior School, we caught up with Mrs Christian during the first week of the opening of the Yingting Qian STEM Lab to discuss how her love of STEM has shaped her career, her experiences of leading the Junior School, her STEM highlights so far, and her exciting plans to expand the STEM provisions and opportunities on offer at the Junior School.
Mrs Christian was drawn to studying sciences from an early age. ‘Maths was my favourite throughout school. I just loved it and found I had a natural aptitude. I also took a strong interest in the sciences from the start, building on my Maths interest. By my A Levels, I was studying Maths, Chemistry and Physics, and I went on to study Environmental Science at the School of Bioscience (then the School of Agriculture) at the University of Nottingham.’
‘I loved my time there, combining all the benefits of a brilliant university department with beautiful countryside surroundings, including an arboretum. I couldn’t be happier that my son is hoping to go there to study in September too – science clearly runs in the family!’
The last year of her degree focused increasingly on Physics. It was a natural step to then build on this focus with a Secondary School PGCE in Physics at Nottingham. While she loved many sciences, she decided on this subject partly due to the nation-wide shortage of Physics teachers, which she hoped to address. After a varied career spanning state and independent schools, as well as SEN provision, and some lecturing at the University of Bedford, Mrs Christian remains enthusiastic about how children learn, as well as her love of science, and the importance of the subject.
Yet Mrs Christian was not always planning a career as a teacher. She describes herself as being unsure about her future career at the start of her PGCE, but she was keen to stay in education. It was her first post at St Aidan’s Church of England High School in Lancashire cemented her love of teaching. She described her admiration for her colleagues there, and, when she was offered a position as Head of Year 8 within her first year, her confidence as a teacher and mentor grew. From this start, Mrs Christian went on to become Head of Science at Five Acres School in Gloucestershire, before increasingly moving into SEN teaching and management roles. Most recently, Mrs Christian was Deputy Head at Bedford Prep School. She is particularly proud of developing their Future Skills Curriculum, which stays in place as her legacy.
Mrs Christian has greatly enjoyed her time at St Mary’s so far: ‘I love everything about the Preschool and the Junior School, from working with such dedicated and enthusiastic students, to my wonderful colleagues. Having taught both boys and girls previously, in co-ed and boys’ schools, I’m really enjoying being in a girls’ school now. The students are confident and interested and thrive across the curriculum.’
With a STEM specialism and so much classroom experience, Mrs Christian is particularly well-placed to comment on the school’s STEM provision. Mrs Christian said,
‘I’ve been particularly impressed by the facilities here at St Mary’s, and the brilliant teachers. In my first term, I led a specialised practical lesson in the Senior School labs to introduce Year 6 to those facilities. The labs are bright, spacious, modern and well-equipped, which is vital for practicals. We’re keen that the girls do not just learn facts but develop an understanding of scientific processes and learn to think like scientists. Practical skills such as planning, observing, analysing and evaluating lie at the heart of scientific thinking.’
‘That’s why we’re so thrilled to be opening the new Yingting Qian STEM Lab, which provides a specialised, cutting-edge workspace for sciences in the Junior School. We’re so grateful to Miss Ivy (Yingting) Qian for her kind donation.’
Mrs Christian is delighted with the clever design of the lab, which integrates scientific principles into every aspect: ‘the folding tables rely on the principle of moments, as each side of the hinge is carefully weighted to allow it to move and function around the pivot – it’s a demonstration of turning forces in action!’
The new lab supports and develops the Junior School’s strong STEM teaching. ‘We’re so lucky to have a talented STEM Coordinator, Mrs Shercliff, who ensures that the girls follow a challenging and engaging STEM curriculum from the very start of their education. These are vital years for creating positive impressions of school subjects, during which students can first spark their passion for STEM. Likewise, we are keen that our girls do not encounter negative stereotypes either. We aim to show the creativity and interest of STEM subjects from their first lessons at St Mary’s, and to build students’ confidence through trying new things, learning new skills, and through successes in national and international competitions.’
‘Mrs Shercliff has introduced some brilliant ideas for STEM projects in the Junior School, tailored to their levels of knowledge and education so far, and drawing in ideas and themes from across their subjects’.
Indeed, for Mrs Christian,
‘It is the ability of STEM subjects to deepen our understanding of everything that makes their study so appealing and, to quote Albert Einstein, ‘The important thing is to never stop questioning.’’
Mrs Christian advises any young scientists looking to explore the subject to keep challenging themselves to think, read around the subject and to try new things. As well as sharpening their Maths skills, Mrs Christian reminds students not to neglect English and other subjects, as communication skills only improve scientific writing and lend it greater impact. Above all, she advises students to just ‘enjoy it – STEM subjects enrich your understanding of almost everything in the universe and are an essential part of tomorrow’s world.’
Mrs Christian is looking forward to leading future STEM sessions, both in the new STEM lab and at the Senior School. Find out more about STEM at the Junior School here.