Forces and Motion | Electricity and Magnetism

What can a magnet do?

Classroom Activity for 5-11 Supporting Physics Teaching

What the Activity is for

Exploring what you can do with a magnet.

This is a simple hands-on exploration of what magnets do, allowing for surprise and delight. Experience suggests that it'll be crucial to focus on whether the children think magnets attract all metals, or only some metals.

What to Prepare

  • a magnet
  • a set of objects, as representatives of different materials (eg: string, paper, paper clips, copper coins)

Here are some suggestions for everyday objects made of different metals.

  • iron and steel: nails and screws
  • stainless steel: some kitchen sinks, cutlery
  • brass: screws
  • zinc: battery case
  • copper: old pennies, copper pipes
  • bronze: some marine fittings
  • aluminium: kitchen foil
  • silver: expensive silverware, some jewellery
  • gold: wedding rings!
  • mercury: thermometer
  • nickel: some coins

What Happens During this Activity

Ask the students to investigate what can and cannot be picked up by a magnet. Ask them to predict which of the objects in front of them will be able to be picked up.

As an extension you may want to start off with asking children to list everywhere they have magnets in their house. Based on experience they will list places where they are more obvious – like on the ‘fridge or on magnetic latches, rather than in other devices, microphones and speakers for example (We'd suggest not deliberately introducing electromagnetic devices such as audiovisual equipment or electrical motors.)

You might also have to hand a supply of coins from different countries: some contain magnetic metals, some do not.

can be analysed using Magnetic Field
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