ACCOMACK, Va. (WAVY) — Everyone faced challenges over this last year and educators were not exempt from that.

Many teachers rose to the challenge, getting creative and motivating their students in new ways. That applies to Chris Matthews, a computer and robotics teacher at Arcadia High School in Accomack County and one of WAVY’s Excellent Educators this year.

Matthews says he’s always likely making things. He’s taken that desire to create and learn and turned it into a passion for education in a variety of fields. That passion has served his students well during a year unlike any other.

Computer repair and robotics are about as hands-on as it gets.

“I’ve always been a tinkerer,” said Matthews. “I’ve always played around with robotics and computers.”

So, how do you take that and adapt to the pandemic? It wasn’t easy.

“There’s no comparison to being about to like, you know, put a circuit together and see it do what it’s supposed to do,” Matthews said.

However, he got creative and used online tools. He also took 3-D printers home and found a way to give back, creating 200 masks.

“We donated a number of them to the hospital, we donated a number of them to local EMS, we donated some to the school, too, for custodians when everything started happening,” said Matthews.

Now that students are back in school, they are getting hands-on experience as the classroom has become the main repair center for all of the district’s Chromebook laptops.

“I’ll give one of the computers to the kids and they’ll say ‘What do you think is wrong with it?’ Look at it … here’s what they say is wrong with it and let’s see what’s really wrong with it,” said Matthews. “I think we have 38 broken screens, so it’s just waiting for them to come in.”

Matthews isn’t just passionate about computers and robotics. He’s passionate about his school.

“Wanted to come back and teach at Arcadia ’cause that was my alma mater. Worked out that I was able to do that,” he said.

He also loves music, which is what he started teaching, but made the switch a few years ago.

“I love the idea that you can start with nothing and piece together little components to perform some task,” said Matthews. “It’s empowering that you can create something like that from nothing.”

Matthews says there are some virtual tools, like Zoom, that he still plans to use after the pandemic ends. He’s looking forward to creating more opportunities to learn in the future.