Magnet
Forces and Motion

## Exploring magnets - teaching approaches

Classroom Activity for 5-11

A Teaching Approach is both a source of advice and an activity that respects both the physics narrative and the teaching and learning issues for a topic.

The following set of resources is not an exhaustive selection, rather it seeks to exemplify. In general there are already many activities available online; you'll want to select from these wisely, and to assemble and evolve your own repertoire that is matched to the needs of your class and the equipment/resources to hand. We hope that the collection here will enable you to think about your own selection process, considering both the physics narrative and the topic-specific teaching and learning issues.

### Selecting and developing activities for exploring magnets

Magnet
Electricity and Magnetism

## Selecting and developing activities for exploring magnets

Classroom Activity for 5-11

Teacher Tip: Based on the Physics Narrative and the Teaching and Learning Issues

Ideas to emphasise here

• one thing acts on another without touching it
• the physical experience of feeling the interactions between magnets, or between a magnetic material and a magnet
• distinguishing between a permanent magnet, and magnetic materials
• magnets have two different ends, which we call North or South poles
• no matter how small you cut a magnet you always have two poles
• like poles (South and South or North and North) repel each other
• different poles (South and North or North and South) attract each other
• a few, but not all, metals are attracted to magnets. These metals are iron, cobalt, nickel or their alloys – like steel
• you can make a new magnet by stroking an existing magnet on a piece of iron

Teacher Tip: Work through the Physics Narrative to find these lines of thinking worked out and then look in the Teaching Approaches for some examples of activities.

Strategies for supporting learning

• distinguish action at a distance from action by contact
• build a way of thinking about permanent magnets that supports children being able to make predictions
• having in mind an explicit model of permanent magnets
• root your approach in the phenomena; a full theory of magnets is very complex
• being consistent in the drawing of force arrows
• use a sequence that encourages children to formulate ideas about an unseen force

Teacher Tip: These are all related to findings about children's ideas from research. The teaching activities will provide some suggestions. So will colleagues, near and far.

Avoid these

• conflating magnetic and gravitational effects – more easily done than you might expect as both are action-at-a-distance forces
• suggesting that gravity is a magnetic effect
• presenting magnetism as a series of unlinked effects

Teacher Tip: These difficulties are distilled from: the research findings; the practice of well-connected teachers with expertise; issues intrinsic to representing the physics well.

### A sequence to develop ideas about magnets

Magnet
Electricity and Magnetism

## A sequence to develop ideas about magnets

Classroom Activity for 5-11

Teacher Tip: Based on the Physics Narrative and the Teaching and Learning Issues

## Meeting reality: valuable experiences

Magnetism is mysterious because we cannot see what is causing the force, we can only see its effects. Clearly it has links to work on forces and the idea of action-at-a-distance. However care must be taken as children mix up these ideas.

seeing that magnets can attract certain metals experiencing both attraction and repulsion; push and pull seeing that two different kinds of poles exist experiencing that magnets tend to be stronger at their poles making a magnet by stroking an iron nail with a permanent magnet, so aligning mini-magnets in the nail

Teacher Tip: As many of these as possible should be direct physical experiences, rather than mediated through video clips. This locates the learning in the lived-in world of the child, and grounds the learning in specific physical circumstances.

## A sequence for developing the idea

This is a short sequence, designed to leave children questioning, intrigued, and perhaps a little surprised. It is all too easy to go too far, and we'd suggest avoiding any measurements with newton meters, any mention of magnetic fields, and any work with iron filings. Rather children should be exploring physical phenomena of permanent magnets with their own hands. Magnetism, although complex to explain, is a wonderfully tactile experience of action without contact, or action-at-a-distance. The force of gravity and the electrical force, which are also action-at-a-distance forces, are much less amenable to child-scale manipulation.

Teacher Tip: The ideas are developed in the Physics Narrative.

What can a magnet do?

Here children explore action at a distance

Exploring magnetic poles

You can use this activity to introduce the idea of a magnetic pole, and see how to magnetic poles interact.

Hanging with magnetism!

This demonstration is useful for introducing the idea of action at a distance

Magnet strength and action at a distance

This small investigation is useful for beginning to quantify the actions of a magnet and perhaps for exploring the idea of making reasonable deductions from evidence, given a good experimental design.

Researching the Earth's magnetism

This is a possible research activity, focusing on some of the effects that rely on the Earth's magnetism rather than on the magnetism itself.

Finding north

This is a demonstration-supported discussion that introduces the idea of a North Pole as a north-seeking pole.

## Messages from research and practice: specific tripwires for this idea

Exploring the action of magnets is a good context within which to begin to experience and think about action at a distance. Because this does not involve contact unlike many of the forces already met, it is an area with some difficulties.

Which are magnetic?

Every object is more or less magnetic, but we commonly distinguish those which have a strong response to magnets as being magnetic. In particular some metals are identified as magnetic, and this challenge outlines some of the difficulties in performing that classification.

Magnetism and gravity

Magnetic and gravitational effects are often conflated and this challenged spells out some of the reasons why and give some strategies for avoiding that conflation.

Teacher Tip: These challenges and some suggestions for working with them are more fully explained in the Teaching and Learning Issues.

## Representing and reasoning: doing physics

Introducing children to magnets should be a largely phenomenal affair: lots of exploring, lots of interest and excitement. There will be opportunities for reasoning about magnets, and what to expect, but we do not think it will be wise to develop a theory of magnets. The model of magnets, which will be introduced at the next stage, is there to guide the explorations that you might suggest.

Magnets everywhere

Everything is more or less magnetic and you will find magnets in all kinds of locations and devices. you will need to be aware of the multiple locations and the graduation in what it is to call something magnetic.

The poles of a magnet

The idea of a magnetic pole is seemingly simple, but can lead to complications if not dealt with carefully.

Interactions between magnets

There are very simple rules, but the rationale behind these rules is not so simple. In fact one general rule is not really available until after you have met magnetic field lines: so a simple approach based on empirically derived rules is suggested.

A model of magnets

This is something to bear in mind, and perhaps the having the back of your mind when you're having conversations with children, rather than aiming to communicate this quite sophisticated model to all children.

all materials are more or less magnetic the actions of a permanent magnet are concentrated at its magnetic poles repulsion or attraction can occur between two magnets permanent magnets may obviously attract some materials – these are commonly called magnetic

Teacher Tip: Find out more from the Physics Narrative.