How can you tell it's a magnet?







Which pupil is near your idea?

Which pupil has the National Curriculum idea of a magnet?








What do you think are these children's ideas of magnets?

What would you do next with them?



Pupil idea

What will you do about it?

Itís sticky like glue

In some ways this pupil is right. Glue is sticky and it helps things to stick together. Steel pins stick to magnets. A magnet attracts the steel pin. When the pin touches the magnet it can't attract it any closer and it sticks to the magnet. When things are being glued they have to come into contact. However, a magnet will attract a pin from a distance. It can do it through air or through paper or wood or any other non-magnetic material.


I can fix messages to the fridge with it.

You can fix messages to steel fridges using fridge magnets. These magnets often have plastic or other materials such as ceramics as part of the object. Sometimes the magnet is inside the plastic and so can't be seen. Children can sensibly draw the conclusion that plastics can be magnetic. The same argument applies to the magnetic seals on fridge doors.


It moves things by magic;

thatís how it does it.

You cannot see the attraction between the magnet and a steel object. See the commentary in the other section



You can feel it pushing you away.

This pupil has spotted one key feature of magnets. Each magnet has two poles. In a bar magnet these poles are at the end of the magnet. They are usually called the north pole and the south pole. That is because if you hang a bar magnet from a thread, the north pole will point to magnetic north. (This is how a compass works.) When you bring one north pole close to another north pole they repel each other. You can feel the two magnets pushing each other apart. This pushing apart, repulsion, is a key way to tell if you have a magnet. Other steel objects can be attracted to a magnet, but that does not mean you can classify the steel object as a magnet.

Other shapes of magnets can have their poles in different places, such as the two faces of a disc magnet.


Grandad uses it to make pins jump off the carpet.

This pupil has noticed that magnets can act at a distance. They are useful for picking up small steel objects. Dressmakers and tailors often use a magnet for picking up pins they have dropped. Some screwdrivers have magnets so that the screw will stick to the screwdriver and so you can fix screws in awkward places.



Magnetic materials in the classroom