Many younger students think that magnets stick to certain objects, rather than recognising an attractive force that acts at a distance (without contact), or through intervening materials.

Electricity and Magnetism


Resources to Address This

  • Magnetic Shielding (11-16)

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

    This practical activity can help students prove to themselves that magnetic attraction is a force which without contact and, in some cases, through intervening materials. 

  • Hanging with magnetism! (11-14)

    Source - SPT/ Em01 TA01

    Use this as a demonstration at the start of the work on magnetism. It provides a highly visual display of magnetic action-at-a-distance at work.

    You might also try slipping different materials into the gap between the magnet and the hanger to find out if the hanger can be shielded from the force of the magnet. The hanger falls away when a sheet of magnetic material is placed in the gap.

    See also Em01 PN09

    View Resource


The following studies have documented this misconception:

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


    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

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


    Review sheet

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