At lower secondary level, some students begin to think of magnets ‘pulling on’ objects and to be aware of action at a distance.

Electricity and Magnetism


Resources to Address This

  • The Magnetic Force and the Magnetic Field (11-14)

    Source - SPT / Em01 TA02

    To help solidify the idea of magnetism as a force which acts at a distance, you can use this activity to introduce the idea of a magnetic field as a region of space where forces are exerted. 

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  • Magnetic fields (14-=16)

    Source - SPT / Ee03 TL07

    The magnetic field fills the space around a magnet, establishing a region within which the magnet will attract or repel another magnet.  This activity explores some of the issues students have with this idea.

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  • Magnetic shielding (11-16)

    Source - Practical physics/ Electromagnetism/ Permanent magnets/ ...

    At a low level this activity can simply serve to emphasize the difference between magnetic and non-magnetic materials, and the idea that forces can act at a distance, even through other objects (such as plastic).


The following studies have documented this student thinking:

  • Selman, R. L.; Krupa, M. P.; Stone, C. R. and Jaquette, D. S. () Concrete Operational Thought and the Emergence of the Concept of Unseen Force in Children’s Theories of Electromagnetism and Gravity. Science Education, 66 (2),


  • Finley, F. N. () Evaluating instruction: The complementary use of clinical interviews. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 23 (17),



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