Magnets: They Are Totally Attractive
In this lesson students will be able to classify objects that magnets are attracted to and
aren't attracted to, and students will magnetize metal. Students will also construct
and use a compass. This lesson will culminate with students developing one of
several possible products that will illustrate their understanding of magnetism.
Take a Look II: Magnets
To get a copy of the video, please contact:
(Utah Core Standard 3050-0104)
Students will be able to:
- Observe and describe the effects of Earth's magnetic field.
- Construct and use a compass.
- Research historical uses of magnets.
- Make observations.
- Classify objects.
- Predict results of experiments.
- Make inferences about magnets during and after completing activities.
- Make comparisons.
- Communicate predictions, inferences and the results of investigations.
- Experiment with magnets in various ways.
Two 50-minute class periods.
For every four to five students:
- Various sizes and types of magnets
- Paper clips
For every three to four students:
Small objects made out of:
For every two to three students:
- Large nail
- Small tacks
- Sewing needle
- 1-inch square piece of styrofoam such as a meat package
- Bowl of water
Magnetism is caused by electric charges that are moving. Moving electric current is
inside a bar magnet. The electric charge is a constant part of the magnet. The
electric current produces a magnetic field.
The molecules in a nail or needle are randomly arranged. We can make nails or
needles into magnets by stroking them in one direction many times with a strong
magnet. The stroking forces the molecules to align themselves in one direction.
Magnets can lose their magnetism when they are dropped, heated, or hit hard with a
hammer. These actions cause the iron molecules to become unaligned.
The ends of magnets are called poles, and every magnet has a north pole and a
In order to introduce the concept of magnetism and make the video segments more
meaningful, begin by having the students participate in the following activities:
Assign each student a partner. Pass out a bar magnet to every student, and have
them explore how the magnets work together. Ask, "Do you notice anything
interesting about how your magnet acts with your partner's magnet?" Students will
probably answer that the magnets are attracted to each other sometimes, and at other
times they aren't. Ask, "Why do you think this is true?"
If the students don't come up with the correct answer, explain that every magnet has
two poles, a north pole and a south pole. The poles are on the ends of the magnets.
The poles have to be different for the poles of two magnets to touch. Remember the
phrase: opposites attract. The north pole wants to be next to the south pole because
they are opposites.
Now ask, "Do you think one part of the magnet is stronger than the other parts of
the magnet? Which part do you think will be stronger?"
Pass out several paper clips to each set of partners. Say, "Spread out the paper clips
on your desk, and place the magnet on top of the paper clips and lift." Ask, "What
parts of the magnet are the paper clips attracted to?" Say, "Count how many paper
clips are stuck to each pole of the magnet. What part of the magnet had fewer paper
clips stuck to it? What does this tell you about the magnet?"
To provide a focus for viewing, say, "We are going to watch a short video segment
on magnets. Be ready to tell me how a magnet helped Kate."
PLAY the video.
PAUSE the video when Kate says, "Why don't you sort them into
Ask, "How did a magnet help Kate?" [The magnetized screw driver helped her get
the screw she had dropped between the planks of wood.]
Say, "Now we are going to do the same classification activity as Jamie." For every
three or four students, pass out small objects made out of these materials:
Say, "First I want you to predict which objects you think the magnet will attract."
Give the students 3 or 4 minutes to do that.
Say, "Let's watch the next segment of the video. Check your prediction with
RESUME the video.
PAUSE the video after Kate says, "Why don't you test them?"
Pass out a magnet to each group. Say, "Now, let's find out which materials the
Allow 3 or 4 minutes for the students to complete their test. Say, "Let's check your
findings with Jamie's."
RESUME the video.
PAUSE the video after Kate says, "I will record the results, and
you try the rest."
Say, "Let's brainstorm individually the many and varied uses for magnets. Write
your ideas in your science journal." Allow 4 or 5 minutes. Say, "Now get with your
small group and check your ideas with your group members' ideas. You may add
any new ideas to your list." [Some uses include: Video and audio cassette tapes are
made with plastic that is magnetized. Hard and floppy disks store data with
magnetized coatings. All compasses have a magnet inside that lines up with the
Say, "Watch the next video segment and check to see if they mention other uses for
magnets that you didn't think of."
RESUME the video.
STOP the video when Kate says, "But you can probably find magnets a lot closer to
home. Try the fridge, or the fridge of one of your friends."
Explain to the students that they are going to create a model of a magnet. Say, "Let's
examine what a magnet is. A magnet is any substance or object that can attract iron
or other magnetic materials. Each magnet has two poles. Magnetic poles have
properties similar to an electrical charge. Poles with the same character always repel,
while opposite poles always attract (north attracts south but repels north)."
Pass out the following materials to every two to three students:
Say, "Test your nail by touching it to the tacks. It should not pick them up. Next
hold the bar magnet in one hand and stroke the nail across it. Be sure you stroke it
in one direction only. Stroke it around 50 times. Test your nail by touching it to the
tacks. The nail should pick them up now."
- Large nail
- Bar magnet
- Small tacks
Explain, "Magnetic materials such as iron have microscopic regions called magnetic
domains. Each domain acts like a tiny bar magnet with a north and south pole.
Normally, the material has its domains arranged randomly. When the domains are
lined up, their north poles all face the same direction. This is what happened when
we stroked the nail with a bar magnet; we lined up the domains. Scientists say that
the material has now been magnetized - or turned into a magnet."
Ask, "How do you think we can demagnetize the nail?" Allow for predictions.
Have the students drop the nail several times, and this will force the domains to be
in random order and no longer magnetic.
Explain to the students that each group is going to make a water compass.
Provide each group of 3 - 4 students with these materials:
Explain and demonstrate the following directions for making a compass.
- 1 sewing needle
- 1 1-inch square piece of styrofoam such as a meat package
- Bowl of water
- 1 bar magnet
- 1 compass
Direct the students to observe the needle. You may wish to have the students write
their observations of the movement of the needle in their science journal.
- Stroke the needle 40 times across the magnet, in one direction only.
- Float the styrofoam on the water, and gently lay the needle on top of the styrofoam.
Have students speculate on what is happening. [The biggest magnet is the Earth.
There's even a North and South Pole, just like the north and south poles of a
Have the students compare their water compass with those made by other groups.
How are they similar? How are they different?
Direct the students to compare their water compass to a pocket compass. How are
they similar? How are they different?
Change some variables. Try using larger and smaller needles, weak magnets versus
strong magnets, different liquids, or paper clips instead of needles. Design
experiments testing each variable and hypothesize the results. What materials make
the most effective compass? the lightest?
Invite an airline pilot, sailor, field guide or another professional to the
classroom to discuss and/or demonstrate the importance of a compass to his or her job.
Have students research two or three of the following common
misconceptions about magnets and write a short paragraph explaining why the
statement is not true. Be sure to have them include where they got their
information and cite any resource materials they may have used.
Build an electromagnet using a D cell, a large steel nail, and about 50 cm (20")
of insulated wire. Strip the insulation off two ends of the wire, and carefully wrap
the wire around the nail to form tight coils. Don't overlap the coils, and make sure
that you leave at least 6 cm (2.4") of wire free at each end. Connect the two ends of
the wire to the two ends of the D cell, and bring the tip of the nail very near some
metal paper clips. The magnet will only attract if the circuit is complete.
- All metals are attracted to a magnet.
- All shiny, silvery objects are attracted to a magnet.
- The larger a magnet is, the stronger it will be.
- The magnetic pole located near the earth's north pole is an N pole.
- A magnetic field can only come from a magnet.
- A magnetic field is a pattern of lines and not a field of force.
- Magnets have charges.
- The north pole of a magnet has a positive charge.
[Background information: An electromagnet is a temporary magnet formed
when electrical current flows through a wire or other conductor. Most
electromagnets consist of wire wound around an iron core. This core is made from
magnetically soft iron that loses its magnetism quickly when the electric current
stops flowing through the wire.]
Introduce compass use in mathematics. Provide the students with a compass and
have them write directions to another part of the school building using North,
South, East, West coordinates. Have students trade directions with another student
and try to follow the steps provided.
Japan and Germany are building magnetic trains that hover over the rails. These
trains can move up to 480 kilometers (300 miles) per hour. Compare those speeds to
the speed of trains in the United States. Graph the data.
Students can write about experiences with magnets. Have students think of and
write down as many things as they can that use magnets, or have magnets in them.
Read the following books about magnetism:
Jason Cooper, MAGNETS, Rourke Corporation, 1992.
Irving and Ruth Alder, MAGNETS, John Day Company, 1966.
The first known magnets were hard black stones called lodestones. Ancient Greeks
knew of the lodestone's power to attract iron. In 1820, Danish physicist Hans
Oersted discovered that an electric current produces a magnetic field. Have students
study the early use of the magnet and electromagnet.
Ever wonder why the Earth has a North and South Pole? Students can research this
topic and share their findings with their classmates.
Incorporate the use of the compass in geography.
Draw a maze on a paper plate for another student to try and follow, using one
magnet above and one magnet below the plate.
Science of Magnets - Learn about the history of magnets and the importance of
electro-magnetism. Try http://buerkle.arc.leon.k12.fl.us/MAG/magtext.pg14.html
Magnet lesson plans can be found at:
Measure the magnetism of the earth. This is a project that can involve students
from around the world. Using an educational newsgroup or an educational listserv,
invite other classrooms with electronic mail to join your class in collecting data.
Materials for every pair of students:
Each pair of students must use similar material to ensure consistent
experimental conditions. Be very specific about the kind of needle, thread, and
- 1 bar magnet
- 1 blunt sewing needle
- Silk thread (about 18 inches long)
First, tie one end of the thread around the middle of the needle, making a
tight knot. Magnetize the needle by stroking the needle with the bar magnet 50
times, going lengthwise and always in the same direction.
Next, hold the end of the thread so that the needle is suspended in front of
you. Make sure that the needle is well magnetized by checking to see that it points
north-south. Carefully turn the needle 90 degrees so that it is pointing east-west. Let go of
the needle and immediately begin counting oscillations. Continue counting for one
minute. Each oscillation will include a full cycle of movement - the needle will
begin and end in the same position.
The number of oscillations provides a relative measure of the Earth's
magnetic field. A large number of oscillations indicates a strong magnetic field; a
small number indicates a weaker one. Students who perform this experiment near
the North and South Poles will measure a stronger magnetic field than students
near the equator.
Master Teacher: Karen Krier
Lesson Plan Database
Thirteen Ed Online