Magnificent Magnets


Have you ever wondered how magnets work? Students explored the reach of magnetic fields, which is a space where the effect of one magnet can be felt by other magnets.

After discussing magnets, students were challenged with designing a device that could pass over a surface and detect hidden magnet fields. Students worked in small groups of 2-3 students. Each group was presented with a board that had several magnets attached to it. Students were not able to observe the positions of the magnets with their eyes because the board was covered with a sheet of paper. This paper has a labeled grid drawn on it (think of the game Battleship or a paper map). Each group received materials (cups, string, scissors, paperclips, rubber bands, scrap paper, etc) with which they built their magnet detectors. We also provided a small, sealed packet of iron filings, which students could use as a part of their detectors. Once building is complete, each group mapped out the locations of the magnets on its board by recording data on a coordinating worksheet. The students’ ingenuity came out as they successfully found all the magnets.

Additional Information: Try this at home! If you have a sewing needle and a relatively strong magnet, try to align the crystal domains (mini-magnets) of the sewing needle by stroking it with the magnet repeatedly in one direction. Then see if the needle exhibits any magnetic behavior (repelling or attracting other magnetic objects.)


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