Electricity and Magnetism

Selecting and developing activities for exploring magnets

Classroom Activity for 5-11 Supporting Physics Teaching

Suggestions for activities to aid the teaching of 'exploring magnets' based on the Physics Narrative and the Teaching Guidance.

Ideas to emphasise here

  • One thing acts on another without touching it
  • The physical experience of feeling the interactions between magnets, or between a magnetic material and a magnet
  • Distinguishing between a permanent magnet, and magnetic materials
  • Magnets have two different ends, which we call North or South poles
  • No matter how small you cut a magnet you always have two poles
  • Like poles (South and South or North and North) repel each other
  • Different poles (South and North or North and South) attract each other
  • A few, but not all, metals are attracted to magnets. These metals are iron, cobalt, nickel or their alloys – like steel
  • You can make a new magnet by stroking an existing magnet on a piece of iron

Teacher Tip: Work through the Physics Narrative to find these lines of thinking worked out and then look in the EmphasisThis{Classroom Activities} for some examples of activities.

Strategies for supporting learning

  • Listinguish action at a distance from action by contact
  • Build a way of thinking about permanent magnets that supports children being able to make predictions
  • Having in mind an explicit model of permanent magnets
  • Root your approach in the phenomena; a full theory of magnets is very complex
  • Being consistent in the drawing of force arrows
  • Ensuring that children have access to a variety of representations when asking for descriptions
  • Use a sequence that encourages children to formulate ideas about an unseen force

Teacher Tip: These are all related to findings about children's ideas from research. The teaching activities will provide some suggestions. So will colleagues, near and far.

Avoid these

  • Listing rules about attracting and repelling as simple ad-hoc statements
  • Conflating magnetic and gravitational effects – more easily done than you might expect as both are action-at-a-distance forces
  • Suggesting that gravity is a magnetic effect
  • Presenting magnetism as a series of unlinked effects

Teacher Tip: These difficulties are distilled from: the research findings; the practice of well-connected teachers with expertise; issues intrinsic to representing the physics well.

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