top of page



Lyn Countryman

An avalanche of awards and the call to leadership mark Lyn Countryman’s twenty-two years at the Laboratory School which began in 1990.

She was born December 27, 1957 in Winterset, Iowa, and went to kindergarten in the same room where her mother attended kindergarten. A new elementary school was built, so first grade through fourth grade were spent in the “new” school. In 5th and 6th grade, young Lyn was bused with all the other students to the old Desoto high school. This was a favorite time, for her teacher read books to the class using different “voices” and the cooks made home-made meals and baked goods that she says were delightful.

Science Whiz

Countryman returned to Adel-Desoto High School for 7th-12th grade, playing basketball two years, softball 5 years, and running cross-country and track only during her freshman year. She excelled in science, winning the top Iowa Junior Academy of Science Award for her research titled “A Pond Study.” Although she won a trip to the America Junior Academy of Science Annual Meeting to present her research, she couldn’t go as her family could not afford the trip. Upon graduation in 1976 from Adel-Desoto High School she was awarded the Bausch and Lomb Science Award.

As the first person to attend a university on either side of her family, Countryman started at Iowa State University as an engineering candidate. She then changed to pre-med, but decided she “didn’t want to go to school forever” so she turned to science teaching. She student taught at Roland-Story, Iowa in biology and general science. Upon graduating she began her first teaching job in Murray, Iowa. There she taught general science, biology, chemistry, and physics (the last on a conditional endorsement). In the next two years she added enough physics graduate coursework to be granted an All-Science endorsement. She left Murray Community School after two years.


Countryman was happy to be hired at Exira, Iowa in 1982. However, the Superintendent wanted a physics instructor (some things do not change, she says) and asked when she interviewed if she could teach physics. Countryman had an all-science endorsement with a great science background from Iowa State University. She said she was certified but teaching physics would be challenging. (The Superintendent's son was thinking about an aeronautical career so physics was a high priority for him).

Countryman was fortunate to hear of a University of Northern Iowa program, PRISMS (Physics Resources & Instructional Strategies for Motivating Students), which had been designed with engaging creative activities based upon the learning cycle, a constructivist teaching method for physics. She was inspired taking the PRISMS training class during a summer and throughout the next year via a group phone audio component led by Dr. Roy Unruh, UNI Professor of Physics and Science Education. This University of Northern Iowa program set her on a path to radically different teaching based upon the constructivist learning cycle method.

A Young Teacher Starting Out

Countryman found success with PRISMS in her first year in Exira. Her future husband, Robert Huber, was the school’s guidance counselor and also her assistant girl’s basketball coach. Games brought many long bus rides in the rolling hills of southwest Iowa. He asked her to marry him and they were married that summer, July 16, 1983. One of their colleagues in Exira was a special education teacher, Kim Miller, who, in just a few years, preceded Countryman to Price Lab School.

Exira was part of the Rolling Hills Conference and participated in the Science Fair competition as well as other academic endeavors such as art, speech, and music. In Countryman’s first year, a student designed a study to look at the cognitive impairment of drinking at certain levels. “I believe at that time 0.1 was when you could be cited as legally drunk,” recalls Robert Huber.

“With the cooperation of the Audubon County Sheriff's office, subjects were to consume beer and play cards and then be measured for their alcohol content. Well, of course, Lyn would not let a student down so she agreed to be a subject along with, I believe, two of the football coaches. Lyn is rather competitive playing cards and she was trying to keep up with the others in consumption. As you may have guessed she became ‘sicker than a dog’ and had to be transported home by law enforcement without even hitting the legal limit! It was a miserable Saturday for her."

A Science Fair takes a lot of energy when a teacher has so many experiments going on. It was a stressful time and one night Bob was wakened by Lyn digging in the end of the bed. He asked her "What are you doing?" Lyn replied that she was looking for the center of gravity. “To my knowledge she is still looking for it,” Huber says. He says he will never forget the night they turned out the last lights of the school after parent teacher conferences in Exira because Lyn had so many parents.

The couple left Exira after three years so Bob could become a full-time guidance counselor at the South Tama Community Schools and Lyn could care for their daughter, Aubrey, who was three months old. Notably, although she was not teaching science, her professional life barely skipped a beat.

Degrees & Early Childhood Education

“We were happy to be located at 1309 Thomas Drive in Tama, Iowa, our first house,” Bob recalls.

“Lyn was excited to join the University of Iowa science education cohort brought out to the Marshalltown and Tama area. Lyn was able to study with and get to know some wonderful South Tama teachers while being inspired by some great U of I instructors. One was Dr. Robert Yager who graduated from UNI as an undergrad and, with his wife, Phyllis, has sponsored the UNI Exemplary Teacher Award to recognize Iowa K-12 excellence in teaching. In recent years Lyn has been able to nominate Yager winners and recipients.

The science education cohort decided to develop a prairie classroom in Tama as a project and Lyn would eventually have a number of cecropia caterpillars reside in our living room as part of a study with another graduate student. Who could know caterpillar poop (frass) was so important to study?”

Her Masters Degree now complete, Countryman was hired to teach Human Geography for Buena Vista University at the Marshalltown campus. Even though it was not exactly a science discipline she says she loved that course and so enjoyed the students preparing to be teachers. Then she was asked to be a graduate research assistant in science at the University of Iowa. With the classes she could take being applied toward a Doctorate degree, she was able to pursue this opportunity with the aid of Susan Wall Daugherty who would care for the (now) two daughters when Bob and Lyn could not.

Countryman carpooled to Iowa City with Nancy Burk who was pursuing a law degree. On one of their trips they saw a coyote that had just met its demise along the highway. Countryman had Burk turn back, recovered the coyote, and took it to her museum class where she was able to mount it. Bob says that “Lyn's insatiable thirst to continue learning would help her in the future to her employment at UNI.”

When Aubrey was approaching three Countryman decided to check out Busy Bee Pre-School for her. The school was owned by Pam Hawkins who was the head teacher with a staff of three. The school was headquartered at the Tama United Methodist Church which the family attended. “I will never forget when we went with Aubrey to visit,” Bob recalls. “She raised her hand and answered a question right off the bat during her orientation. I wish you could have seen the surprise of Mrs. Hawkins. Off to Busy Bee Aubrey would go and be delighted by a wonderful curriculum and teacher.”

Lyn and Bob wanted their daughter Katy to attend Busy Bee the next year. But to their horror Pam Hawkins’ husband transferred to Illinois and Busy Bee might not be! In talking with Pam, Lyn decided to buy her equipment and teach Busy Bee herself that next year. Having Pam's staff all return and having watched the teaching magic Pam produced, Countryman had a year of officially teaching two sections of pre-schoolers, including Katy. “It was the best practical experience of the basics of teaching I could have ever had,” she later said.

A Timely Newspaper Ad Brings the Lab School

“Lyn sold the pre-school and was going to be a full-time mom,” Bob explains. “One day I was reading the Des Moines Register and I saw an ad for a science teaching vacancy at Price Lab School. Having experienced the Lab School as an undergraduate and graduate student at UNI, I told Lyn this would be an ideal opportunity for her.”

After some investigation she applied for the position, but it was filled by her friend and former fellow Adel-DeSoto High School graduate, Karen Couch Breitbach. However, a temporary one-year position was open and was offered to Countryman and so, in 1990, she became a commuter on Highway 63, teaching one section of high school chemistry and one section of 8th grade science and both sections of 7th grade science at PLS.

After a year, Lab School Science Department colleague Jim Kelly would take a position "on the hill" in the College of Education which opened a tenure-track position possibility for Countryman. She applied and was selected as an instructor at Price Lab School in the fall of 1991. The summer before her Lab School start she had taken her final graduate classes at Lakeside Lab, an Iowa Regent Field Station. After these field-based classes, Countryman had everything completed for her Ph.D. except for the dissertation. That summer the family moved to Cedar Falls, buying a home in the PLS school district at 1409 Catherine Street.

In the fall of 1991, Aubrey and Katy started at Price Lab School, joining their Mom. Countryman taught 7th and 8th grade science and Aubrey started in first grade and Katy in kindergarten. "Price Lab was like no other school in the state," Countryman explains.

“It was an integral part of the College of Education of UNI that served to train pre-educators of the university. It accepted N-12 students that CHOSE to enroll and lived in a defined boundary, but it had also made inroads in allowing students from Waterloo to attend to increase the diversity of students to be served. The standard class assignment load was lighter than the public schools, but the opportunities for service to the university, the state, and the nation were immense. It was quite a change from being a one-person science department in Murray, Iowa.”

The Lab School Science Department Countryman joined was “tremendously talented and active,” she says. Jim Kelly left after being an excellent writer and curriculum developer. Carl Bollwinkle did yeoman work with environmental education. Louis Finsand was a writer of huge grants and created hundreds of planetariums. Countryman’s running partner, Jody Stone, was also a prolific grant writer and her long time partner in developing science curriculum. Karen Couch Breitbach and Aaron Spurr were long time colleagues as well who were “tremendous advocates” for the students at the Lab School and university and, along with Jody and Lyn, were raising their own children at the time “which was a joy.”

Countryman taught 7th and 8th grade science for several years. From 1993-2004, she taught 7th grade science and high school biology and from 1993-1998 she also served as the middle school coordinator. In the late 1990’s she even taught one year of 8th grade language arts with Mary Beth (Kueny) Runge. In 1997, the year after Louis Finsand retired, Countryman and Stone taught earth science as well.

Collaborations & Publications

Countryman immediately embraced the Lab School’s collaborative culture. With Jody Stone, she published and shared a presentation on “Problem-Based Learning in Science Teaching.” With another Lab School Science Department colleague, Tim Cooney, and Roy Unruh from “the hill,” she co-authored “The PRISMS Approach: A Spectrum of Enlightening Physics Activities” for the 1992 Science Teacher. “You were looking at what kids understood,” she explains, “so you were looking to see what tripped them up.”

In I994, she followed this in Science Scope with the imperative “Make Science Recent, Relevant, and Responsive.” The same year and in 1996, she published articles explaining the benefits “When Students Lead Parent-Teacher Conferences.”

In 2007, Countryman co-authored an article titled “Confident Commute: Increasing Safety for Teen Drivers” which offered a unit for high school biology teachers. The teacher begins by asking the students to list the 3 leading causes of death for their age group. After the students compare and discuss their lists, the teacher reveals that “unintentional injury” causes the most deaths, with car accidents the leading cause. This leads to the class studying the biological effects of car accidents and developing a list of safety measures.

That year Countryman was selected as a Science Ambassador for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This experience exposed her to the wide variety of job opportunities in public health. “I think that’s one of the biggest things that we can take back to our classrooms,” Countryman said. “We can teach kids that there are a lot of careers out there in public health that they probably don’t even think about.”

Countryman began to revamp her biology curriculum. Instead of teaching a unit on cells, she explained, she would teach a unit on cancer: “And we’d go backwards, first looking at the CDC statistics on cancer and discuss what we needed to know to learn what cancer does, and then we’d learn about the cell, but we’d start with the public health aspect of it.”

All of the PLS Science Department faculty were also members of the UNI Science Education group. Countryman began teaching UNI undergraduate biology courses and a beginning course titled “Inquiry into Life Science” for Science Education. She also taught a variety of elective graduate classes in Science Education along with the graduate core course assigned to her, “History, Philosophy and the Nature of Science.” Helping Level 2 UNI students (usually sophomores or juniors) learn by teaching lessons was also a joy.

Additionally, she was the major advisor for more than 20 science education master’s degree papers and served on the M.A. committees of more than 20 others.

Natural Leadership

Countryman’s work led to leadership roles in science education. From 2007 to 2008 she served as Executive Director of the Iowa Math & Science Coalition. Through a grant from the Iowa Mathematics and Science Education Partnership, founded in 2007, she led an “Iowa Studies STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics] Symposium” in 2008 that brought students and teachers together to explore ways to increase the number of students taking high school math and sciences courses. “We really want to make students excited about science and math and show them that it is something they can really have fun with,” Countryman said. “We like to hear from the students and see how we can help create a better program in their schools.”

In 2010, Countryman served as President of the Iowa Academy of Science, and she became a member of the national “Committee on the Study of Teacher Preparation Programs in the United States” for the National Research Council. The Committee produced the book Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Social Policy. That year PBS, the Public Broadcasting System, named Countryman a Teaching Innovator.

“The Lab School provided a place to be creative and continue to grow professionally,” Countryman explains. During her Lab School days she coached middle school girl’s basketball for a couple of years and helped initiate the girl’s soccer program as their coach. “I have great pictures of heart dissections, eye models, etc.,” she recalls. “With Jody Stone to bounce ideas off of, PLS science was an exciting place to work.

National Board Certified Teacher

One of the most notable opportunities Countryman pursued was to become a National Board Certified Teacher. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards was founded in 1987 as a response to a 1986 report issued by the “Task Force on Teaching as a Profession,” a group funded by the Carnegie Forum on Education. The report, titled A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century, called for the creation of a Board to “define what teachers should know and be able to do” and to “support the creation of a rigorous, valid assessment to see that certified teachers do meet these standards.” (By 2024, some 133,444 U.S. teachers have achieved this national certification.)

Dr. Vicki Trent from UNI led a cohort in the early 1990's to prepare teachers for this certification. Countryman was a busy person and was forced to do video-taping of her teaching rather at the last minute. “The value of being a National Board Certified Teacher,” she later admitted, “was the process that invited reflection of how you incorporated your learning into being an effective guide for your students.” This would be a touchstone of her professional efforts.

The first submission of candidates from around the United States produced surprise and disappointment for many; however, Countryman was among the quarter of candidates who achieved Board Certification recognition with a high score. As a result she was among the first NBCT awardees and was recognized by U.S. President George H. W. Bush in “a wonderful ceremony” in the White House.

As a result of this process Countryman spent considerable time working with future National Board Certified Teacher prospects and on the evaluation of their submissions. At that time the NBCT effort was conducted by the Education Testing Service (ETS) and Countryman helped develop scoring standards with other professionals, actually scoring submissions, and, in the end, becoming a site director to train and conduct scoring. This work took her to North Carolina, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Texas, and Georgia. “It was a wonderful opportunity to work with educators in attempting to improve the process of teaching,” Countryman declares. She was gratified when her Lab School colleagues Karen Couch Breitbach, Aaron Spurr, and Jody Stone, plus Nadene Davidson, prepared and succeeded in becoming National Board Certified Teachers a short time later.

Awards, Awards, Awards

Countryman also was more than willing to aid other Iowa teachers who prepared for this process and conducted some of her aid with the Iowa State Education Association. In 1993, she was honored for Excellence in Science Teaching at the Middle School Level by the Iowa Academy of Science; in 1994, she was named the Grout Museum Honor Roll Science Teacher of the Year.

In 1995, she received the Excellence in Science Teaching Award from a consortium of national companies, including AgrEvo DuPont, DowElanco, and Uniroyal. The next year she received an award in recognition of a long-time PLS principal, R. Paul Brimm, from the Iowa Association of Middle Level Educators.

This was topped in 1999 when she became the fifth Lab School faculty member to receive the nation’s highest award in her field, the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. (An Award-winner was named each year for each state.) This brought another trip to a White House ceremony with another President, Bill Clinton. Washington trips made Countryman a big fan of the Smithsonian Institution which she visited at every opportunity.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science selected Countryman for its BEN Scholars Program—BEN short for BiosciEdNet—which provided training and support for select faculty to build digital expertise in bio-science and then take their knowledge and skills back to colleagues and through scholarly publication. This made her “part of an emerging community of leaders in biology education.” The Iowa Academy of Science gave her its Distinguished Service Award in 2002.

Of the many awards Countryman received, she says the two she values most were from UNI: the Ross A. Nielsen Service Award and the UNI Excellence in Teaching Award. Ross Nielsen, Lab School Director from 1962 to 1986 and a Price Lab and UNI legend, wrote her a congratulatory letter which she treasures.

Service, in truth, under-girded all these awards. She was a founding member of the Teacher Education Council of the National Academy of Science and served as President of the Iowa Science Teachers Association and the Iowa Academy of Science. With Lab School colleagues Jody Stone and Nadene Davidson she consulted and wrote curriculum for the Iowa Department of Education.

Countryman was tapped as a teacher member on the Board of the National Secondary School Principals and served as a member of the Review Board for the Journal of the National Education Association Higher Education Council. Her leadership even extended to the role of President of UNI’s United Faculty.

Looking back at her days at the Lab School, Countryman explains that “Because PLS was an N-12 school there was a link between students. Students would have ‘reading friends’ that were several grades apart.

They learned to be a buddy, not a bully. And they had a counselor or nurse who could help them with a variety of concerns.

They were able to have experience with a different language. At PLS a student could take Spanish, French, or Russian. You could be in band, orchestra, or vocal music and a few students were in all three. Students could be in variety of activities in drama, speech, athletics, cyber security, yearbook staff, and various other endeavors. Larger schools might have more opportunities, but you could keep busy at PLS.”

Countryman enjoyed it all and felt privileged to work with theater. She crawled around in the upper reaches of the auditorium replacing and setting lights. She constructed and tore apart flats, painted sets, and assisted with sound and lighting for plays.

“PLS was a busy place,” she explains. During her time she saw students become champions in basketball, jazz band, speech, and cheerleading. She witnessed some students in all 14 (N-12) of their years in school. She saw sad events like a student passing away too young and the field house burn down from arson. “But she was blessed by a community that believed in its mission to do its best to serve the students, parents, University, and community,” Bob Huber says. “PLS was a big family.”

The Lab School’s Final Director

Bob Huber recalls that “Lyn came home one day [in 2010] and said she had been asked to be the Interim Director of Malcolm Price Laboratory School. I lobbied for her not to accept due to the work-load but that was a mistake. Lyn loved being the Lab School Director. Working with the university, staff, parents, students, neighboring conference schools, and, to some extent, the state—all the experiences and challenges were exciting.”

With staff input, Countryman decided on three initiatives for focus. The first one was for the high school: a Technology One-to-One initiative and High Tech Classroom Program. Through a generous private grant of $600,000 from Michael Peterson, the school was able to provide an Ipad or a MacBook for every high school student. “By having the same curriculum using both devices, we could do comparative research,” Countryman explains. “MPLS received calls from other schools asking about this technology and for recommendations of what technology to choose.” She established a new computer laboratory in the school. At the state level, the school took first and second places in the IT-Olympics Cyber Defense Competition.

The second initiative was to implement a Comprehensive Literacy Program in the elementary grades. This proposal came from professors in the UNI College of Education who were looking for schools to implement this experimental literacy outreach. “The Lab School became the first school to implement such a program,” Countryman says. “The elementary teachers, with Elementary Principal Jim Stichter, embraced this program.”

The third initiative was to implement the Leader in Me Program on an N-12 basis. Countryman placed Leader in Me signage in the halls to highlight the program’s various goals. Not only was it to be a learning resource for the students but it was also applied as staff development for the educational personnel.

Prior to Countryman coming to her new position, MPLS had worked to be a 1st Amendment School, a source of pride and national recognition. In her twenty-two months as Lab School Director, before the school was closed, the Laboratory School received the 2010 Whole Child Award from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, the first such award given. This national award recognizes schools that “move beyond a narrow focus on academic achievement to take action for the whole child, creating learners who are knowledgeable, emotionally and physically healthy, civically active, artistically engaged, prepared for economic self-sufficiency, and ready for the world beyond formal schooling.” The Lab School also worked with the state to create training videos.

The next year, the Lab School received the Alliance for a Healthier Generation Award, national recognition for the school's creation of an environment in which physical activity and healthy eating are encouraged and accessible. Parents had helped drive an initiative for a healthier school lunch program and a garden was utilized for some fresh food for the school.

Countryman spent extra hours at school, sometimes doing grounds improvement and, at other times, doing upkeep. She had help cleaning “Purgatory,” a catchall storage area in the basement. She purchased a new bus for the school and had its parking pad constructed.

“I discovered often that the staff had better solutions to the goals I had for the building,” she confesses. “I valued our building administrators and their leadership and the efforts by all the support staff. I also enjoyed the conference meetings I attended with other neighboring schools.”

Countryman enjoyed attending MPLS activities. And most of all, she loved visiting classes often and seeing “the magic” that was happening everyday in the classrooms. Some of her favorite memories include playing in Shelly Bromwich’s kindergarten class as her students were doing physics by shooting ping pong balls out a reversed vacuum cleaner. Countryman had fun watching the students try different angles to get the farthest shot.

In Unit 2, the young students were holding a pet snake one morning before class and they asked Countryman if she wanted to hold it. Internally, she was saying NO, but she said, “Sure.” She held it as briefly as she could and then handed it back to the first grader. Another joy was talking to PLS parents as they were delivering their kids to school.

Looking Back

When the Lab School faced closure, Countryman worked with the school staff and parent community to devise a comprehensive plan for transition to schools for the following year. “Sarah Eastman and Betsy Peterson did a massive amount of work with other parents in developing appropriate memory events including a school wide community-based picnic,” Countryman notes. “Each class was able to be photographed in front of the building. There were tours of the building and wonderful stories that were told in a final goodbye.”

When the Lab School closed in 2012, Countryman joined with colleague Becky Hawbaker as the UNI College of Education’s Student Teaching Coordinator, working with all the pre-service teachers. She also continued with the UNI Science Education program, teaching “Inquiry to Life Science,” a course designed for future elementary teachers.

Countryman ended her career at the University of Northern Iowa in 2020-2022 as Head of the Department of Teaching, the role of legendary Ross Nielsen.

One Lab School graduate wrote to her: "I really appreciate all of the time you spent helping me get through high school. I really do think that if it weren't for you and one or two other teachers I would not have made it. ... I will never forget you and all that you did for me."

Another former student wrote this: "I sat down to a tall glass of Mountain Dew and my NEA Today! What an uplifting treat it was to read about you...After seeing your picture, my mind was refreshed with the reason why I decided to be a teacher--I wanted to give back to education what teachers like you have given me: a positive self-concept, courage, and strength to take risks and be an individual with knowledge of a changing world."

Receive the latest news and updates in your inbox


Receive News and Updates

bottom of page