Many students are unable to accurately represent a magnetic field using field lines

Electricity and Magnetism


By mid-secondary level, many students recognise a ‘magnetic field’ as a region where magnetic effects can be detected, but many are unable to use field lines to represent the field around common shapes of magnet, or a wire or simple coil.

Resources to Address This

  • Representing Magnetic Fields: In Practice (11-14)

    This resource discusses some important physics narratives for teachers about representing magnetic fields in the classroom.

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  • Drawing Magnetic Field Patterns (11-14)

    When teaching magnetic field patterns, start with a compass needle demonstration to help students understand before moving to iron filings. This ensures clarity and recognition in their drawings.

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  • Drawing magnetic field patterns - an activity (14-16)

    Our experience over many years of directing pupils to scatter iron filings around bar magnets has shown that the magnetic field patterns which seem so clear to us are far from obvious to the vast majority of pupils. 

    The aim of this activity is to develop the idea of a magnetic field by engaging pupils in drawing some magnetic field patterns.

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  • Episode 411: Describing Magnetic Fields (16-19)

    The field around a permanent magnet should be familiar to your students. In practice, where we want a controllable field, we use electromagnets. In this resource, aimed at A-Level classes, students learn about these fields and the factors that determine their strength and direction.

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  • Magnetic fields due to arrangements of magnets (11-16)

    Iron filings will align with the direction of a magnetic field to reveal the field pattern.

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  • Borges, A. T. and Gilbert, J. K. () Models of magnetism. International Journal of Science Education, 20 (3), 361-378.

    A study including electrical engineers shows that a fully correct understanding of electrical principles is not always necessary to work in the field. This paper describes how students and professionals picture electric currents and discusses how to develop models and teaching techniques that will allow students to link electrical concepts correctly.

    Paper digest

  • Bradamante, F. and Viennot, L. () Mapping Gravitational and Magnetic Fields with Children 9–11: Relevance, difficulties and prospects. International Journal of Science Education, 29 (3), 349-372.

    Students can easily become confused between gravitational and magnetic fields, often thinking that they are the same thing. To overcome this issue the students, need to explore the different shapes of magnetic fields, identify that they can cause repulsion due to the presence of two magnetic poles and then discuss the role of field lines in both types of field.

    Paper digest

  • Guth, J. () An in-depth study of two individual students' understanding of electric and magnetic fields. Research in Science Education, 25 (4), 479-490.

  • Saarelainen, M., Laaksonen, A. and Hirvonen, P. E. () Students' initial knowledge of electric and magnetic fields—more profound explanations and reasoning models for undesired conceptions. European Journal of Physics, 28 (1), 51.

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