In this edition of the “STEM School Spotlight,” we hear from Richard Knoeppel, who teaches Architectural Design at Advanced Technologies Academy (A-Tech) in Las Vegas, Nevada. Richard was named 2019 Nevada Teacher of the Year and works on several local and state-level initiatives to advance STEM and CTE in Nevada. Read about Richard and A-Tech below.
Tell us about your background and about your school.
I have been a classroom teacher for thirty-four years. In that time, I have educated students in kindergarten through college and taught a wide variety of classes. For the last twenty-six years I have worked at Advanced Technologies Academy (A-TECH) in Las Vegas where I teach Architectural Design. At A-TECH I have built a nationally recognized program of study in Architecture and my students have been afforded the opportunity to attended some of the best colleges and universities in the United States to further their studies. As a Career and Technical Education (CTE) Teacher, I firmly believe that I need to provide my students with the knowledge and skills they will need to thrive in a rapidly changing global economy. I want to provide them with the ability to be successful in jobs and careers that have not been thought of yet. To support my students, I am very involved with the Nevada Department of Education Office of Career Readiness, Adult Learning, and Education Options where I work to develop curriculum and assessments that ensure students graduating from my program of study have the requisite education to be successful in their postsecondary pursuits. I have also worked tirelessly to build partnerships with the Architecture Engineering and Construction community in Las Vegas to afford A-TECH students the opportunity to experience professional mentoring, job shadowing, and internships. In 2019 I had the distinct honor to serve as the Nevada Teacher of the Year and be inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame. I have proudly worked as a member of the Nevada STEM Advisory Council since 2013.
Advanced Technologies Academy is a Career and Technical Academy (CTA) in Clark County School District. The seven curricular areas align to the theme of “Academics Plus Technology” as teachers and students use current technologies in both the core and program area classes. Students use technology to access and learn curriculum, develop skills currently used in colleges and workplaces, and become experts in program-specific, industry-standard software/hardware technologies aligned to their Career and Technical Education (CTE) program.
Why is STEM important to you and why should the broader Nevada community care about STEM?
As a Career and Technical Education (CTE) Teacher in a college preparatory high school I look at STEM through a few different lenses. STEM is important to me as a CTE teacher because of the interdisciplinary approach to instruction it facilitates in my classroom. Regardless of the postsecondary path a student in my classes takes upon graduation, I know that they have been exposed to an educational environment that is focused on cross curricular instruction. Students learn to think critically, and problem solve using skills and knowledge from all their classes. This approach to instruction encourages students to experiment while fostering their ingenuity and creativity. STEM activities provide a safe environment where students can experiment without the fear of failure. This encourages students to take calculated risks and helps them to build resilience. Nevadans should care about STEM because of the economic opportunities it can provide our state. By embracing STEM education, we can graduate a STEM educated workforce that can help diversify the current job market in Nevada and provide members of our communities the opportunity to work in high skill high wage STEM careers.
Talk a little about where your school is on its STEM school journey.
In my opinion, Advanced Technologies Academy (A-TECH) is an accomplished STEM school. When it opened in 1994 the express purpose of our magnet program was to integrate cutting edge technologies in everyday instructional practice. Over the twenty-six years I have been teaching there we have changed our program areas of study to reflect the skills and knowledge necessary to produce students who are critical thinkers and problem solvers. A-TECH also offers the Advanced Placement Math, Science, and Computer Science classes to support students who are looking to pursue a career in a STEM field. Even though the physical school building is over twenty-five years old, the technology in our classrooms is industry standard and in some cases our students have access to technology that is better than what our business partners have. I believe that we are doing an outstanding job providing students with the technical and academic skills they will need to be successful in their future STEM careers and education.
What challenges has COVID-19 posed to your school and what have you done to overcome them?
COVID-19 has most certainly changed the way I teach. Having less instructional time has caused me to reflect more deeply on the outcomes of my teaching. I have changed my primary instructional focus to the knowledge and skills that are being attained instead of the product. I shared this fundamental change with my students who have embraced the idea of becoming critical thinkers while building a strong set of problem-solving skills. I feel confident that this pedagogical shift will benefit my students while also helping me to refine my teaching practice.
What are your plans for 2021?
As we move into 2021, I want to embrace some of the technical challenges we have faced during the last academic year and leverage them to advance my instructional practice. The lack of equitable access to high end computers made it very difficult to teach some of the industry standard software packages I use in class. The availability of cloud based computing platforms helped to level the playing field to a certain extent. Exploring alternative methods to teach technology opened my eyes to a vast set of online tools that are currently being used by industry to communicate and solve real-world problems. I plan to integrate the use of cloud-based technologies and online collaboration to a much greater extent in my future instruction. I believe that these are the tools and skills our students will need to be competitive and successful in our evolving global economy.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I am both proud and excited about STEM education in our state. In less than a decade we have secured funding and passed legislation that has propelled STEM education forward in Nevada. It’s exciting to see how much we have accomplished in such a short time and the profound impact STEM is making in our schools. I am excited to see the continued growth and adoption of STEM programs in our state and how it will positively affect our communities and citizens.
Learn more about the Nevada Governor’s Designated STEM Schools here.