That kind of hands-on approach to teaching science helped Hester earn this year's state Teacher of the Year Award for Secondary Education from the Soil Conservation Districts of Kentucky.
At the award ceremony this summer, Hester was introduced like this: "She feels that the best way for students - people for that matter - to appreciate the world around them is to spend time there. Our conservation program begins with allowing students to be 'in nature' and then to have a meaningful experience with nature."
Hester grew up in the small Carter County community of Olive Hill. Her mother ran a Girl Scout camp, where Hester nurtured her love of the natural world by spending her summers in a rustic cabin with an outdoor shower and three-hole latrine. That experience helped form a strong environmentally friendly outlook that Hester tries to impart in her teaching.
This past summer, for example, Hester had her Governor's Scholar students at Centre College reading "Fast Food Nation" to learn more about how America's appetite for fast food has consequences for the environment as well as their own health.
"I try to get them to see how three main concepts - economic feasibility, ecological viability and social desirability - all work together," she said. "I lean on the ecological side, but of course it has to be balanced.
"I don't know how it goes over with the students. I've heard some criticism that I should do more labs and things like that, but some of them will make little changes, like not using Styrofoam. I just want them to stop and think that they do have a choice."
Positive response to her teaching style
Sophomore Cortney Miller took Hester for biology last year and responded well to Hester's teaching style.
"It was different from anything else I had in the past, especially for a science class," Cortney said. "Usually it is the English teachers who try something alternative, but she really went out there and allowed us to experiment a lot. She listened to our ideas and we did things we were interested in. It wasn't just her teaching, it was more us learning together. It was my favorite class last year."
Cortney said Hester asked the class to come up with some things they always wondered about, one of which was whether phases of the moon affect people's behavior.
"We called car dealers and prisons and all these other people and did our own research," said Cortney, 15. "We decided that no, the moon didn't have any effect on it."
Hester said she tries to cultivate students' natural curiosity by not always following the script and mixing art and cultural lessons in with the science to cast things in a different light. And she makes sure that her classes venture outside the classroom and into the natural world as often as they can.
"It's wonderful just to be outside," said Hester, 38. "The kids are always smiling, they're really animated when they're out there."