Iowa State alum to be honored at White House this year as California Teacher of the Year

Iowa State University alumna Maggie Mabery is a California middle school science teacher who runs a paper-free class, uses an iPad daily, and isn’t afraid to say when she doesn’t know something.

“I’m absolutely embracing technology in my classroom. It’s a big push for the future. I’m not scared of it,” she said. “And I’m not scared to tell students ‘I don’t know’ and have them show me, and let them find the answers themselves. I’m comfortable doing that. I don’t think a lot of teachers are.”

Mabery, who graduated from Iowa State in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, is the 2015 California Teacher of the Year. The seventh and eighth-grade science teacher at Manhattan Beach Middle School was chosen among 350,000 teachers for that distinction.

Maggie Mabery“We are so proud of Maggie for being honored as the California Teacher of the Year,” said Pamela White, dean of the Iowa State University College of Human Sciences. “Her success is our success, demonstrating the high quality of education our students receive at ISU in our School of Education. They graduate well prepared to teach in a multitude of environments.”

The self-proclaimed “SoCal Cyclone” will in April meet President Barack Obama at a White House ceremony honoring 55 state teachers of the year, including 2015 Iowa Teacher of the Year Clemencia Spizzirri. They’ll learn in mid-January whether they’re among four finalists for National Teacher of the Year.

“We are delighted for Maggie Maberry,” said John Schuh, former director of the School of Education. “Obviously, she is a superb educator who is making a difference in the lives of her students.  We are very proud that she is a Cyclone!”

Iowa State is no stranger to receiving national recognition for producing high-quality teachers. Sarah Brown Wessling, a Johnston High School language arts teacher, was the 2010 National Teacher of the Year. She received her bachelor’s degree from Iowa State in 1998 and master’s degree in 2003, both in English.

National standards, hands-on learning

Mabery, who’s originally from Chicago, has been a teacher for 15 years.

She has a hands-on teaching style that embraces the new national Next Generation Science Standards for K-12 students. The standards incorporate a lot of engineering and aim to provide all students with an internationally-benchmarked science education.

“I still believe in Bloom’s taxonomy,” she said, referring to a way of classifying learning objectives for students by knowing, feeling, and doing. “Can you reteach it back to others?”

For example, Mabery does the “elephant toothpaste” experiment in her science class, creating the foamy substance caused by the rapid decomposition of hydrogen peroxide.

“Demo labs are great, but kids learn by being hands-on,” she said. “I had the kids film me doing the demo. They edited my voice out and they had to explain to me what kind of chemical reaction they were seeing. It’s a good way to pick up misconceptions by having to explain it in their own words.”

Decision to become a teacher

Mabery made the decision to become a teacher during her time in Ames. As a diabetic, she originally thought she’d become a dietitian — which aided her decision to attend Iowa State because it has one of the best dietetics programs in the nation.

“I remember calling my parents,” she said. “I thought my parents would be disappointed, but they said they knew I’d be a teacher — I think because I’ve always loved being around kids.”

Mabery credits Iowa State for training her to be the teacher she is today. During her schooling, she student-taught in the Aldine Independent School District in Houston, Texas.

“My student teaching experience was awesome,” she said. “I grew so much as a person, learning how to be a great teacher. That was one of the best experiences I had at Iowa State. I also remember my science methods class — planning and doing hands-on labs. It was so much fun. Some of them, I still do in my classes today.”

A bigger platform

Becoming the 2015 California Teacher of the Year gives Mabery a bigger platform to talk about education, teaching — and Iowa State.

In her new role, she’s scheduled to speak to thousands of people including the California Parent Teacher Association and the group that helped to design the Next Generation Science Standards.

She’s especially proud to be a woman in a science career. Just 24 percent of scientists and engineers were women in 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.   

Mabery’s college roommate, Elizabeth Bierman, is president of the Society of Women Engineers. The Iowa State alum, who graduated with her bachelor’s degree in engineering in 1999 and master’s degree in 2005, is a senior project engineer at Honeywell Aerospace in Minneapolis.

“I think that’s powerful,” Mabery said. “That’s a big deal. That encourages me to be a teacher, as well. Why aren’t women going into these types of jobs? They can and this is doable.”