Electricity and Magnetism | Forces and Motion

Magnetism and air

Teaching Guidance for 5-11 11-14 Supporting Physics Teaching

Magnets act-at-a-distance

Wrong Track: Magnets need air to work. If there's nothing between them they can't attract or repel each other.

Right Lines: The magnetic force requires no medium to act at a distance. Magnets will attract and repel just as well through a vacuum as in air.

Action at a distance

Thinking about the learning

Some pupils will argue that air is needed to enable magnets to attract and repel each other.

This line of argument is certainly incorrect, but it is also understandable in that it suggests a medium through which the magnets can act at a distance.

Thinking about the teaching

You might want to challenge this wrong track thinking directly in your teaching by setting up a demonstration. This might involve placing a piece of iron in a bell jar, removing all of the air from the jar with a vacuum pump and seeing whether the iron is still attracted to a powerful magnet held outside the jar. Ask for pupil predictions before you start removing the air.

can be analysed using Magnetic Field
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