For an example of how geologists use radiometric dating, read on: A geologist can pick up a rock from a mountainside somewhere, and bring it back to the lab, and separate out the individual minerals that compose the rock.
They can then look at a single mineral, and using an instrument called a mass spectrometer, they can measure the amount of parent and the amount of daughter in that mineral.
Uranium eventually decays into lead, and lead does not normally occur in zircon, except as the radioactive decay product of uranium.
Therefore, by measuring the ratio of lead to uranium in a crystal of zircon, you can tell how much uranium there originally was in the crystal, which, combined with knowing the radioactive half-life of uranium, tells you how old the crystal is.
All radioactive isotopes have a characteristic half-life (the amount of time that it takes for one half of the original number of atoms of that isotope to decay).
By measuring the parent isotope (radioactive) and the daughter isotope (radiogenic) in a system (for example, a rock), we can tell how long the system has been closed (in our example, when the rock formed).
So, when the materials are appropriate and one carefully avoids contamination and re setting radiometric clocks can be VERY ACCURATE.The ratio of the parent to daughter then can be used to back-calculate the age of that rock. The reason we know that radiometric dating works so well is because we can use several different isotope systems (for example, Uranium-Lead, Lutetium-Halfnium, Potassium-Argon) on the same rock, and they all come up with the same age.This gives geologists great confidence that the method correctly determines when that rock formed.Hope that helps, and please ask if you'd like more details! I think that I will start by answering the second part of your question, just because I think that will make the answer to the first question clearer.Radiometric dating is the use of radioactive and radiogenic (those formed from the decay of radioactive parents) isotopes (isotopes are atoms of the same element that have different numbers of neutrons in their nuclei) to determine the age of something.