Forces and Motion | Electricity and Magnetism

Researching the Earth's magnetism

Classroom Activity for 5-11 Supporting Physics Teaching

What the Activity is for

Our home is a magnet…

The Earth's magnetism has a significant effect on what's possible for life on the planet. This interesting starting point can form the basis of a number of research activities.

What to Prepare

  • a compass
  • an image of the Northern Lights ( Aurora Borealis)
  • an image of a migratory bird

What Happens During this Activity

The Earth behaves as if it has a giant bar magnet inside.

You might launch the research by showing a floating needle being aligned by the Earth's magnetism. Here's how to set that up:

  • magnetise the needle by rubbing the a pole of a bar magnet along it several times from the eye to the point
  • use tape to stick the needle to the top of the cork
  • fill a bowl with water
  • float the needle on the cork in the water

The magnetised needle spins until it is aligned with the Earth's magnetism. You could emphasise that this is a magnetic effect by bringing a bar magnet alongside the bowl, and noticing the needle re-align.

The Earth's magnetism plays a really crucial role in protecting the Earth and is used in navigation. Pupils could research some interesting , for example: the Northern Lights; magnetic navigation in birds; early use of lodestone as a compass on land and at sea.

Teacher Tip: Scientists have been studying the Earth's magnetism for years and yet there is still no consensus on how it works. So don't be drawn into trying to explain it.

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