Many students are slow to adopt the idea of magnetic poles and only gradually come to see magnetic effects in terms of attraction of unlike poles and repulsion of like poles

Electricity and Magnetism


Resources to Address This

  • Interactions Between Magnets (5-11)

    Source - SPT/ Mf02 PN04

    This piece of exposition helps to reposition the magnetic interaction in terms of attraction and repulsion between like and unlike poles.

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  • A model of magnets (11-14)

    Source - SPT/ Em01 PN07

    When the material is not magnetised, we can imagine that there is no pattern to the lay-out of the mini-magnets. In other words they point in all directions.

    When the material is magnetised, the mini-magnets become aligned so that they all point in the same direction and the object becomes a magnet.

    The ideas are extended in Em01 PN08 - Putting the model to work.

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  • Breaking a magnet (11-16)

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

    This experiment could be used either to show that magnetic poles always come in north-south pairs, or to introduce a simple theory of permanent magnetism.

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The following studies have documented this student thinking:

  • Preston, C. () Effect of a Science Diagram on Primary Students’ Understanding About Magnets. Research in Science Education, 46 (6),


    Review sheet

  • Borges, A. T. and Gilbert, J. K. () Models of magnetism. International Journal of Science Education, 20 (3),


    Review sheet

  • Haupt, G. W. () Concepts of magnetism held by elementary school children. Science Education, 36 (3),


    Review sheet

  • Van Hook, S. J. and Huziak-Clark, T. L. () Tip-to-Tail: Developing a Conceptual Model of Magnetism with Kindergartners Using Inquiry-Based Instruction. Journal of Elementary Science Education, 19 (2),


    Review sheet

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