Reflection: Connection to Prior Knowledge Radioactivity, Part One - Section 2: Free Write: Radioactivity


I have used the free-write/turn & talk strategy several times this year to great effect. This combination of exercises provides many great benefits for students and, because of the particular moments that I employ it, provides me with a thorough insight into student prior knowledge.

For students, the free-write time to quietly reflect is beneficial. Instead of a cold call question - "Who can tell me something about radioactivity?" - which leads to the fastest processors in the room dominating the conversation, everyone gets a few minutes to think about the prompt. Good ideas are given time to present themselves to students and tangential ideas can be written down without fear of scrutiny. 

When coupled with the turn & talk strategy, the free-write becomes even more beneficial. Hearing another's thoughts can be powerfully affirmative (if there's some commonality) or can be instructive or inspirational (if one hears something new and interesting). The result is that the final segment - the public sharing of thoughts and ideas - is quite democratic. Nearly every student has something they freely wish to share.

For me, the chance to truly get a snapshot of student thoughts at the beginning of a lesson is invaluable. For instance, today I noticed that while many students were able to access stories of comic book superheroes whose lives had been altered by "radioactivity," very few were able to link that to the stability of atomic nuclei. I absolutely knew we were doing something valuable by working through the images of alpha, beta, and gamma decay. 

As we have now done this many times, students are well aware of the pattern and they welcome the opportunity to compose, then share, their thoughts. Our culture has become one where virtually everyone - with occasional students opting out - will readily engage in the discussion. The resulting environment is upbeat, positive, and inclusive.

  Impact of Classroom Culture on Learning
  Connection to Prior Knowledge: Impact of Classroom Culture on Learning
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Radioactivity, Part One

Unit 4: Electromagnetics
Lesson 12 of 17

Objective: Students will identify and distinguish between new forms of radiation that are the result of nuclear reactions.

Big Idea: Radiation can come in the form of particles as well as waves.

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