Hands-on Teaching: OCU Professor Keeps Science 'Fun'

By Steven Collins, Senior Reporter, Circleville Herald

Photo by Nancy Radcliff, Chief Photographer​, Circleville Herald

Circleville Herald, November 14, 2018

When teaching, Rolanda Hurtt believes a hands-on approach is a way to keep both students and teachers interested and engaged.

Hurtt, an Affiliate Professor in the Teacher Education department at Ohio Christian University, shares her hands-on approach with her students who can then pass it on to their students once they are in the classroom.

“We always try to have fun,” she said. “I want my students at OCU to enjoy what we’re doing. I can see where people say we’re just playing, but we do learn science concepts. I don’t want my students to be afraid to try this stuff in their classrooms.”

Hurtt, who retired from the public school system in 2012 after working as a teacher at both Adena School District and in Circleville, got her start in 1979 when she got a job in Special Education soon after graduating from Ohio State University.

“I was so naive,” she said. “I thought, ‘Right. I’ll just get a job right away.’ I interviewed at Southwestern City Schools right after graduation. I went to the interview and they wanted me to sub. I told them that I liked helping students with learning disabilities, and they ripped up my subcontract and gave me a contract for tutoring. I did that job for $7 an hour and my classroom was in a closet.”

Hurtt worked there for four years while she got her certifications to work with developmentally disabled students. After four years of wanting her own classroom and her friends telling her, she wouldn’t get it there, she moved on to Adena where she taught sixth grade for 17 years. That’s when she got involved with science.

“When the standardized testing came out, the principal said we were going to have to compartmentalize,” she said. “She told one person they were good at math so they’d do that. Another person wanted to do English, so they did that, and she got to me and said ‘You’re going to do science’.”

Hurtt, in an effort to gain more knowledge and be better prepared, started taking workshops on science.

“I took anything and everything I could,” she said. “Adena was really good about sending me to conferences. I developed a program where everything was hands-on.”

However, Hurtt had pushback from other teachers regarding her new way of doing things.

“I had flack from other teachers and I couldn’t understand why,” she said. “They’d say it was just playing. I did it out of need. You don’t want kids to be bored out of their minds, especially kids with disabilities. They do better with hands-on than kids without [disabilities].”

Hurtt, who taught at Circleville for over 10 years, said she’d never pictured herself teaching at OCU, but after doing some of the summer programmings, the school approached her and offered her a job.

“If you’d have asked me 10 years ago if I thought I’d be working at OCU, I’d tell you that you’d be out of your mind,” she said. “It never occurred to me that I’d be working there.”

These days, Hurtt is still hands-on teaching, sharing her methods with the next generation of teachers.

“We’re always getting in trouble because we’re loud, even though we don’t mean to be,” she said. “It’s just fun. I want my students at OCU to enjoy what they’re doing. I don’t want them to be afraid to try this stuff. It might be noisy, but they’re doing science or they’re talking about science.”

Hurtt said that even when teaching a workshop for experienced teachers, fear is a factor.

“They kind of complain about the experiments at the beginning, but they have to know it and be able to do it to be able to teach it,” she said. “It gets them out of their comfort zone, and I’ve found that to be true with my students and the teachers.”

Hurtt said part of getting out of that comfort zone is also realizing mistakes will happen.

“You’ll make mistakes, I’ve made lots of mistakes,” she said. “There was this experiment where you suck a balloon into an old milk bottle with fire. To get it out, you have to change the air pressure. One easy way is to blow into the bottle. I did it one time and that thing came back at me and hit me in the face. There were ashes all over my face and in my teeth. I looked like I was missing some [teeth] and the kids laughed and I laughed. Stuff like that happens.”

Hurtt will continue to do her hands-on learning, sharing experiments and fun ideas with her students to show to their eventual students.

“I just started this way of teaching out of need,” she said. “I’m not the greatest teacher or anything. It’s just really fun.”

Email scollins@circlevilleherald.com and follow on Twitter @Collins_Herald

About OCU

Ohio Christian University is committed to offering a complete education that develops students intellectually, professionally and spiritually. OCU offers degree programs for residential undergraduate students, graduate students, and adult and online students. Every program is designed to equip students to become leaders in their careers, communities, families, and the world.