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SOE alumnus earns VSTE Innovative Educator of the Year award

Alumnus Matt Caratachea, a graduate from the School of Education’s Department of Teaching and Learning, has been named the Innovative Educator of the Year by the Virginia Society for Technology in Education (VSTE).

Currently an instructional technology resource teacher for Henrico County Public Schools, Caratachea’s job is to show teachers and students how technology can make learning in the classroom more fun and more efficient.

His work often carries him to elementary schools across the county, so much so that Caratachea rarely visits the same school two days in a row. Learning to adjust to changing days and audiences has been one of his biggest challenges.

“I can proudly say that this job has pushed me to not only think creatively, but it has also helped me to become a better educator when it comes to all age levels,” Caratachea said. “As an ITRT, I get to help teachers grow as educators while helping students learn curriculum content and new technology.”

Bringing technology into a classroom can be a difficult task, since students and teachers alike often have widely-varying ranges of knowledge and comfort levels with that technology.

"I love showing teachers and students that not only can they use technology to learn, but it might actually make their lives a little easier.”
– Matt Caratachea, VSTE Innovative Educator of the Year

Caratachea, however, sees that challenge as an opportunity.

“I love showing teachers and students that not only can they use technology to learn, but it might actually make their lives a little easier,” Caratachea said. “In the classroom my favorite moments were those ‘lightbulb’ moments: that look on a kid’s face when you know something they were struggling with just clicked.”

One of Caratachea’s favorite projects, for example, involved bringing 3-D printers into the classroom, where he allowed students to design their own animals after a adaptation lesson and then watch them be printed.

“I loved using children’s engineering and design challenges in my classroom to help push my students creatively as well as intellectually,” Caratachea said. “When the students designed these animals [to be printed], they had to know about their animals at such a high level to not only tell about the animal’s adaptations, but to recreate it in a 3-D space, which takes a lot of critical thinking and problem solving itself,” Caratachea said.

Now in his fifth year with Henrico County Public Schools, Caratachea credits the VCU School of Education for helping prepare him for life in the classrooms.

“So many things that I learned at VCU have stuck with me, but there’s one thing I use on a daily basis as an educator - reflection ,” Caratachea said. “All of my professors put a huge emphasis on reflecting on your teaching, because reflection is a crucial part of growing as an educator. Nothing is ever perfect, so even if I think something went great, I still try to think how I can improve next time.

“This simple act of reflecting and constantly trying to improve has helped me grow so much as an educator.”