Electricity and Magnetism

Particular issues arising and decisions to be made when teaching Electromagnetism

Teaching Guidance for 11-14 Supporting Physics Teaching

Getting the physics straight

  • magnetic forces are action-at-a-distance forces
  • domain theory accounts for magnets
  • fields as mediating forces
  • similarities between electromagnets and magnets

Representing the topic effectively 

  • fields are real, to avoid spooky action-at-a-distance
  • forces and fields are different kinds of things
  • exploiting the similarities between magnets and electromagnets

Particular teaching challenges

  • being clear about the status of magnetic fields - what they are
  • developing some models with pupils, so that they can reason about the phenomena
  • connecting disparate devices back to fundamental physics
  • a simple model of force and field
  • magnetic fields as representations to reason with
  • keeping electrical current and magnetic field separate
  • making sense of the iron filing / compass needle patterns

Dealing with existing ideas

  • separating out magnetic effects from those due to other forces
  • magnetic north and south and the geographic poles are conflated
  • bar magnets, electromagnets and geomagnetism are seen as separate 
  • action without contact seems impossible

Selected teaching principles

  • mini-magnets as an appropriate version of domain theory
  • field pattern similarities between electromagnets and magnets
  • complex magnetic fields built up from simpler fields
  • magnetic fields predict forces
  • systematic use of teaching models
  • linking ideas from microscopic and macroscopic


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