STEM: From ramshackle Cornish shed to engineers’ paradise

How Jon Dean at Truro High School for Girls set up a sophisticated STEM programme with engineering at its centre

Jon Dean at Truro High School for Girls talks about STEAM education

For science teacher Jon Dean, life altered beyond all recognition in 2012 on the day he joined Truro High School and was handed the keys to a shed. Curious to find out more, he unlocked the padlock and stepped inside to begin an adventure that was to change his life, and the lives of hundreds of his students, forever.

It wasn’t even a particularly lovely shed, quite ramshackle by most people’s standards, but inside, the newly appointed head of STEM brushed away the cobwebs to find the decaying body of a Greenpower racing car and there began a passionate love affair that still burns bright to this day.

Jump forward to 2022 and it’s easy to understand why the Tes Schools Awards have just selected Jon Dean as Subject Leader of the Year (Secondary). The shed is long gone, in its place a state-of-the-art engineering room where girls can develop and further their passion for engineering. Ten year olds are handed a sheet of roof insulation, a leaf blower and a shower curtain and taught to make a hovercraft. Older girls engineer skeleton bobsleighs alongside a Team GB bobsled designer.

“Ten year olds are handed a sheet of roof insulation, a leaf blower and a shower curtain and taught to make a hovercraft.”

The fleet of Greenpower racing cars now numbers eight with three Greenpower Goblins for girls in the Prep School and five designed, built and raced by girls in Senior School. The original car, the Green Goddess still lives, albeit with a brand new uber sleek body and a lot more power that has seen her top speed rise from 7mph to more than 30mph.

With Jon in the driving seat, the school has become a UK Ambassador for Greenpower Engineering and is the only school in the country to be listed as an official motorsports club by Motorsports UK. It’s a passion that crosses international borders with Truro High working alongside a school in Brazil, some of whose students will travel to the UK to race alongside Jon’s own students at the International Finals later this year.

Opening students’ eyes to the possibilities that STEM offers is central to Jon’s approach and every year he hosts Women in Engineering Day for Year 8 girls from schools across Cornwall. This year’s event in June saw girls sampling 15 short 20 minute workshops as well as getting stuck into one of 6 longer, two hour projects. It’s a great way to introduce girls to the opportunities that await should they decide on a STEM career.

“Lewis Hamilton’s Petronus car visited school as part of a Girls on Track motor racing day.”

At Truro High, all girls study three separate sciences to GCSE and maths and chemistry are currently the two most popular A-levels. Off-timetable days are frequent and looked forward to with topics carefully chosen to light the sparks of interest in our young scientists and engineers. Lewis Hamilton’s Petronus car visited school as part of a Girls on Track motor racing day. Budding astronaut Suzie Imber led a day of discovery about space science, and the land speed record car Bloodhound raced into school for a week of workshops with nearly 900 local children.

The sky really is the limit for Jon’s team which has seen the school become the Cornwall hub for astronomy. Renowned astronomer Brian Sheen and his team lead a weekly astronomy club with the school heavily involved in the Royal Astronomical Society’s Sea to Stars project to encourage more people into space science.

A ‘Voyage to Mars’ day saw hundreds of local primary school children taking part in a day dedicated to space science with workshops on everything from space food and lunar robots to discovering the answer to the question “How do astronauts sleep in space?”.

“A ‘Voyage to Mars’ day saw hundreds of local primary school children taking part in a day dedicated to space science.”

A desire to assist those girls seeking to study degrees on competitive courses such as medicine led Jon to launch Truro High’s Aspiring programmes which operate as weekly after-school clubs, and monthly lunch clubs, for anyone with an interest in Senior School. Aspiring Medics offers workshops on everything from bandaging animal’s paws for budding vets, to mixing anesthetic from solids and debating the ethics of euthanasia while Aspiring STEM covers many other branches of science.

In recent months Jon has overseen the development of a brand new STEM laboratory for girls as young as 4 and weekly STEM lessons have been added to the Prep School curriculum. It’s this passion for his subject that set Jon apart for the Tes judges who were astonished by the sheer range of opportunities he creates for his students.

The school year may be drawing to a close but we cannot wait to see what he does next!

Jon Dean is Head of STEM at Truro High School for Girls and has just won Subject Leader of the Year (Secondary) in the Tes Schools Awards 2022.

To view all the winners, visit: https://www.tes.com/schools-awards