Magnetic materials in the classroom.

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

What would you do next with them?

Pupil comment

Implied pupil idea

What will you do about it?

1. I thought it would stick to the door handle cos I thought it's metal.

Some door handles are metal. This handle was aluminium. This child seems to think that all metals are attracted to magnets. Only iron or steel are attracted to the magnets you are likely to find in school. Some steels, like some stainless steel cutlery doesn't seem to be attracted to a magnet.

Help the pupil explore a range of metals. The metals need to be ones that the child also agrees are metals. Coins are one good source as children usually accept that these are metals. Jewellery, such as gold and silver, and tools, kitchen tools, spanners and so on, are usually accepted as metals by the pupils.

2. The material of the curtain cos my magnet sticks to the bottom of it.

Curtains are sometimes made with steel weights in the hem to make them hang well. Magnets attract steel, so the magnet seemed to attract the fabric, the curtain was made from. In fact the observation shows that magnets can attract steel through fabrics.

Test the different parts of the curtain to see which parts are attracted to the magnet. Provide a range of fabrics to test. Later, go on to test things made of more than one material.


3. The chair leg

must be a magnet

cos its made of iron.

Iron chair legs are attracted to magnets. This child knows that there are links between the concept of magnetism and that magnets attract iron. The main way to test if you have a magnet is to see if one end of the test piece is repelled by one pole of a known magnet as well as attracted by the other pole of the known magnet.

Find out what the pupil thinks a magnet is.

Ask them to see if a nail or a paper clip is attracted to the chair leg to show that the steel has to be magnetised and that not all steel objects are magnets.

Teaching the idea that like poles repel is harder. Hold a magnet in each hand and bring the ends of the magnet together. If the poles are the same you will feel the magnets pushing your hands apart. We call that repelling or repulsion. Try floating a magnet in a dish in a bowl of water or hanging one from a piece of string. Bring the second magnet up the first one and you will see that when like poles are together the magnets will push each other apart.

4. It doesn't pick up the silver paper because its not a metal

This child seems to think

(i) that magnets attract metals and

(ii) that aluminium foil is not a metal. Kitchen foil, or aluminium foil, is often called silver paper. Because the foil is more like paper than silver metal the pupil puts it in the class paper because they seem to know that paper is not attracted to magnets.

For this pupil, as for the pupil in section 1 in this table, provide activities to show which metals are attracted to magnets. To help the pupil develop their ideas about materials, show them samples of metals of decreasing thickness so that they see that the thinnest piece of metal is a foil. Revise this when you next do materials.


How can you tell its a magnet?