Magnets are generally studied in elementary school, beginning in first or second grade, with a study of how magnets work. Older students study more details of magnetism, such as electromagnetism and the earth's magnetic field. Children are often fascinated by magnets, and there are a number of lessons on that will allow students to explore the properties of magnetism and basic science methodology.
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What do Magnets Attract
Magnets are attracted to various metals. You can demonstrate this in a lesson plan that allows younger children to explore magnetism for themselves. Divide the children into pairs or groups, depending on how many materials you have. Give each pair or group a bar magnet, a neodymium magnet and a variety of materials to test for magnetism. These could include paper clips, nails, pennies, minerals such as hematite and quartz, a dollar bill, wood, plastic and an old CD or DVD. Students then test each material and write down which are attracted to the magnets. Discuss what conclusions the students can draw from their research.
This magnet lesson plan is most appropriate for third grade students. This lesson demonstrates that opposite poles of magnets attract, while like poles repel each other. Children can work in pairs or individually. Give each child or pair two or more ring magnets, a pencil and some clay. Students can make predictions about what will happen when they place the magnets over the pencil. Have the students poke their pencil into a bit of clay, so the pencil is sticking straight up. Students should experiment with different ways to place both magnets over the pencil. When the magnets are stacked so that two like poles face each other, the top magnet will float. Allow students to experiment by moving the magnet, for example by pushing on the top magnet to make it bounce, and then discuss why this happens.
Iron in my Cereal
In this magnet lesson plan, children discover a way to use magnets to find tiny bits of iron. This lesson is most appropriate for students in the second and third grades. Discuss with students the types of materials that magnets are attracted to, and where these materials can be found. Have the children place some iron-fortified cereal into a Ziploc plastic bag, zip it shut and crush the cereal with their hands or a rolling pin. Children pour the cereal into a bowl and mix it with water to make a slurry. Children then place a bar magnet into a plastic bag and drag it very slowly through the cereal slurry. Tiny bits of iron in the cereal should stick to the plastic bag--attracted by the magnet.
This magnetism lesson plan is most appropriate for children in the first or second grades, and allows children to use scientific methods to test how strong a magnet is. Each student should be given a few different types of magnets, such as a bar magnet, a neodymium magnet, a horseshoe magnet and a ring magnet. Students can then test the magnets to see how many paper clips each magnet will pick up in a chain, and how many will stick to each magnet. Students can place tape or plastic over the magnet to see if this affects the number of paper clips it can pick up. Discuss with the students what conclusions they can draw from their experiments--can they tell which type of magnet is the strongest?
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