Maybe someday the movie “Oppenheimer” will have played a role in a youngster’s decision to become a nuclear physicist.
After all, when Cleveland High School teacher Ashli Knoell saw the movie “Jurassic Park” when it came out, it made her consider being a paleontologist. It was the first movie she ever saw.
As it turned out, she’s no Ross Geller, merely a STEAM and robotics teacher — “pretty much all things science,” is how she described her role — at CHS, where she’s starting her fifth year.
“I’m a lifelong teacher. It’s kinda my thing,” Knoell (pronounced “knoll”) said. “You should never stop learning. We do passion projects where the students pick things they’re interested in.”
That includes “battle-bots” competitions, and what 21st century kids don’t like that?
It’s an elective, which is advantageous for Knoell and her students, because it’s where they want to be each day, starting Thursday, Aug. 3, when the bell rings for the first time in the 2023-24 school year.
She’s also been involved with Educators Rising and a few clubs at CHS.
“I do a showcase in my room at the end of the school year,” she said. “I’ve had students who have built things; I had a student who did a cookbook, I had a student who started a nonprofit last year; I had a student who painted something. It’s not just constrained to robotics.”
Project-based learning is how she termed it.
“I have students who are excellent at coding, and I have students who build; I have students who can write about their learning or sketch it out,” she explained. “I don’t teach from a textbook”
A 2006 graduate of Cuba High School — Sandoval County’s Cuba, not Ricky Ricardo’s Cuba — where she said only one room on campus had internet access, Knoell said she “ended up in Rio after eight years of teaching for APS.”
It was time for a job change, she decided.
“I decided that I would like to teach high school,” she said, having been at a middle school and an elementary school during her days with APS.
“It’s never been about money for me — ever,” she said. “As long as I can out food on the table and basic needs are met. … How can I help tomorrow, move forward?
She obtained her undergraduate degrees, in elementary education and science, at the University of New Mexico. She headed south to Socorro and New Mexico Tech.
“I was at a training and another teacher said that there’s a really cool program that I think you should check out at New Mexico Tech, and it’s for science and math teachers interested in technology,” so she did, heading to Socorro.
“That’s how I found out about the masters program there.”
Last December, she met Shelly Gruenig of robotics lore in Rio Rancho.
“She’s an amazing human,” Knoell said. Many of Gruenig’s summer campers wind up in Knoell’s classes.
She said she’s undecided about the role artificial intelligence (AI) will play in her future and is planning to have some students get involved in it ahead of time.
Back in Cuba High School, she recalled, “They had a row of four or five computers and you had a sign-out time to be there. I don’t think I really used computers until I went to college, and then it was a sharp learning curve for me.”
But Knoell’s not about easier: “We need more teachers. … It is a good profession.
“I try to make it fun,” she said. “Students who are respected and heard are happy students.”