Reflection: Student Ownership Creating a Radiation Journal - Section 2: Warmup


When students get intensely interested in a topic that is not on your daily plan, you have a choice to make. Whether you pursue these interests or not depends upon many factors and there's no right answer. However, I try to honor that energy and enthusiasm often and I call it "chasing rabbits," as one never knows exactly what direction the discussion will go - but it will likely go very quickly as one idea spurs another and another. Today we chased some rabbits with some wonderful results.

Before class even began, I had a student share her excitement over a recent Kepler discovery of an Earth-like planet, with an atmosphere, and in the habitable zone of its host star. I drew upon this enthusiasm a bit later in class when another student asked "How far can a radio wave travel?"

I knew in my heart that the student really wanted to know if, say, he could tune in a station from across the country. I delayed answering that question (though did, eventually) and took the opportunity to link radio waves to light. I said the real question was whether the receiver was sensitive enough to detect a signal that would diminish with distance. In addition, don't we receive light from the Sun, an object 100 million miles away? This led to the idea that an intelligent species, perhaps on a newly Kepler-discovered planet, located 40 light years away would be receiving Earthly-created television programs from 1975! Those 80 light years away might be receiving radio broadcasts from 1935.

This, naturally, led to an eager conversation about intelligent life. One student nominated the SETI program as something to know about and I followed with the recommendation that ordinary citizens can download the "SETI at Home" software to help search the backlog of radio data for signs of extraterrestrial life. To my great amazement, one student downloaded the "SETI at Home" utility while we spoke and showed the program working to the rest of the class!

We did not get to the final segment of class as this warmup problem became something much larger and much more important. We've all had classes "run away" from us, but the pay-offs for this rabbit chase were well worth it!

  "Chasing Rabbits"
  Student Ownership: "Chasing Rabbits"
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Creating a Radiation Journal

Unit 4: Electromagnetics
Lesson 4 of 17

Objective: Students will create and maintain an ongoing journal devoted to their growing understanding of radiation.

Big Idea: Radiation is a word used and misused frequently - students must come to grips with what we truly mean when we use it.

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