YARMOUTH – Morgan Cuthbert counts his blessings every morning, when he heads to work happy that he’ll spend the day teaching science and mathematics to seventh-graders at Harrison Middle School.

Cuthbert’s ability to share his love of learning was recognized Monday when he received a 2011 Milken Educator Award during a surprise school assembly. The national award, presented by Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen, comes with an unrestricted $25,000 prize.

Cuthbert, 35, was singled out for his hands-on approach to teaching and his efforts to make lessons relevant for students of all learning abilities.

“He doesn’t just sit there and talk about science or math,” said Julia Kitonis, one of his students, after the assembly. “He likes to challenge scientific ideas. He shows us ways to use technology to learn new math concepts. We actually do things in the classroom.”

Cuthbert’s students had fun making “America’s Most Unwanted” posters that detailed the damage done by invasive plant and animal species, Kitonis said. For the last three years, his students have sponsored annual blood drives for the American Red Cross while studying the science of blood.

When some students struggle with complicated new concepts, Cuthbert pairs them with classmates who readily understand the material, enlisting them as “student experts” in the learning process.

“The more tangible lessons can be, the easier it is for kids to learn,” Cuthbert said after the assembly, still shaken by news of the award.

Harrison Principal Bruce Brann said Cuthbert’s impact extends beyond the classroom, in part because he is the designated leader of science teachers at Harrison Middle School, helping to set the course for science instruction in the district.

“He’s a really good classroom teacher because he has exceptional teaching strategies,” Brann said after the assembly “He’s also an outstanding educational leader in the school and in the district. And he’s just an outstanding person.”

The Milken Family Foundation of Santa Monica, Calif., recognizes as many as 40 outstanding educators each year. Since 1987, more than 2,500 educators have received more than $63 million to spend as they please. A panel in each state nominates candidates confidentially.

Recipients are invited to participate in the Milken Educator Network, a group of distinguished educators whose expertise is tapped by fellow educators, legislators, school board members and others in shaping the future of education in the United States.

“This award says you’re doing important work,” Bowen, the education commissioner, said in introducing Cuthbert. He compared the Milken recognition to the Academy Awards for film excellence and the Nobel Prizes for cultural and scientific advances.

Cuthbert grew up in Brunswick and lives in Freeport with his wife, Christina, a Unum executive, and their 15-month-old son, Colby.

Cuthbert has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Hobart College in Geneva, N.Y., and a master’s degree in education from the University of Southern Maine. He’s now working on a master’s degree in school administration at USM.

This is Cuthbert’s fourth year at Harrison Middle School. He also taught at Mahoney Middle School in South Portland, an American school in Surrey, England, and Greely Middle School in Cumberland.

“I love what I do every day,” Cuthbert said after the assembly. “When I come to school, I’m excited. The only thing that could make it better would be if I were able to influence more teachers to become better teachers. But that’s down the road. I love where I am now and the people here who make it possible for me to do what I do.”

Cuthbert said he’ll have to consult with his wife on how to spend the $25,000 prize. There may be a vacation or a new kitchen in their future.

“We’ve been talking about doing some traveling before we have another child,” he said, “but we live in an old farmhouse that needs a lot of work, too.”

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: kbouchard@pressherald.com