The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Exploring with Magnets

We began our second science unit, this one on electricity and magnetism, last week. We started off exploring electricity, circuits, and motors. Today we explored with magnets. It was a very interesting experience, especially for students whose preconceived notions of what should and should be magnetic did not always match up with what they observed.

Before giving students magnets, though, I asked them to think about what magnets are used for and what types of objects might be magnetic. Some of the things listed as being magnetic were specific, such as whiteboards and refrigerator doors. Others were more general, such as metal. Then I asked if they could list non-magnetic items, and I was given a list of nonmetals, such as pencils, papers, doors, desks, etc. Once we had both lists made, I gave the students a simple but fun task: working in groups of two or three, they were to take the magnets I had handed out and explored our room. On one side of a piece of paper they had to list things they found that were magnetic. On the other, of course, they listed non-magnetic items. The only restriction with the magnets was that students had to keep away from my computer, my phone, and my iPads!

After fifteen minutes, we came back together and the students shared their findings. After listing many items that were not magnetic, I asked them if they had any results that surprised them. Lots of hands shot up in the air! We discovered that several metallic objects in the room are not magnetic, such as the window frames, the sink and faucet, the golden apple, and the border around the whiteboard. Then they shared the metallic objects they found, such as the door handle, desk and chair legs, my metal filing cabinet, and the mini-fridge. I wrapped up the exploration with a question that I left hanging: why are some metals magnetic and others are not? This will be one of the questions that drives our inquiry over the next few weeks. Depending on weather conditions, my plan is to continue to explore with magnets in different settings, such as the playground and the hallway. I may even take the class to another teacher’s room (preferably when the class is out).


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