Radioactive Learning

A short anecdotal narrative emphasizing the development of understanding through teaching, the most effective way to master a skill or concept.


Thirteen-year-old JD strolls into the center this morning a little before 9:00 am.   He quietly sits down at his workstation, shuffles some papers around on the desk, and logs-in on his computer. 

The rapid movement of JD’s finger, clicking away on the mouse, and his desire to jump into the world of alpha and beta particles, atomic numbers, gamma rays, isotopes, positrons, and subatomic particles, is in stark contrast to the coat of sleep slowly falling from his shoulders, as he opens and sets-up two windows side by side on the monitor: one for Firefox, which is loading Nuclear Decay, an  ExploreLearning Gizmo he had been working on for the past couple of days, and another for the corresponding Student Exploration worksheet he had downloaded to Word to record his answers. 

One question remains:  Think and Discuss:  What do electron capture and positron emission have in common?

"Roger, I need some help with my Gizmo when you have a minute,” JD inquires in a voice vibrating with anticipation.

“I’ll be over in just a minute JD, after I’m finished working with Alexandra,” I reply.

“Okay, what’s going on, JD?”  I ask.

“I’m having trouble answering this question,” JD responds, pointing to the question on the monitor.

“Before I can help you with the answer JD, I need to know a few things…,” I ask.  JD respectfully interjects.

 “What is electron capture and positron emission?” he states, knowing full well he has asked a question that he’ll have to answer. 

“Yes, exactly,” I respond.

JD proceeds to walk me through the Gizmo, explaining the concepts of electron capture and positron emission, solidifying his understanding of the concepts as he does so - this is developing understanding through teaching, the most effective way to master a concept. 

As I continue to listen and ask questions, our roles quickly reverse; JD has clearly become the teacher, and I, the student. Without so much as a correction (none were necessary, nor did I have all the answers), dictation, or administration of knowledge from me, JD comes upon his answer.

“Oh, so electron capture and positron emission both involve a proton transforming into a neutron.  They both reduce the atomic number by one, but don’t have any effect on the mass number.” JD beams internally.  His learning doesn’t end here though. In fact, it escalates.

Like a decaying radioactive atom, he releases an intellectual energy full of surprise and wonder, which propels our discussion beyond electron capture and positron emission, into other subject areas.  He asks more questions, makes more connections, and absorbs more knowledge.  It is simply, radioactive learning – the most effective kind.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.


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