The Attraction of Magnets

I was lucky enough to try out the Classroom Attractions set with my Grade 3 class. The kits are available in three levels, with different components for various exercises.

The struggle with teaching magnetism is finding magnets that are strong, and having all the materials on hand. With this kit, all you need are the everyday objects that are in your classroom. This comprehensive kit has everything you need to cover the curricular outcomes for Grade 3: Exploring Forces that Attract or Repel.

Opening the kit in front of students got lots of oohs and ahhs, just the reaction a teacher wants as we start a new science topic!

For our first exploration with magnets, I wanted to give students freedom. Their instructions were “to explore and see what they can find out.” This allowed students to use the magnets without restraint. Many students explored the materials I had given them and then wandered around the room testing materials for attraction.

Materials given included at least one of every type of magnet in the kit, pencil, compass, xylophone bar, paper clips, cork, thumbtack and a paper plate.

We discussed the need to work collaboratively and share materials, working as a team rather than by ourselves. Some students did seem to prefer the Magnet Wands possibly because they were stronger than the Plastic-Encased Button Magnets.

Of course, sticking all of the materials together in one big lump was a hit. As was creating magnet sculptures! As I was moving around the room I heard good learning discussions taking place:

  • “Look at the magnets jump!”
  • “I wonder why they are jumping away from each other?”
  • “Watch this magic trick.” (magnets repelling and moving away from each other)
  • “Look I have the power to make things move.” (magnets attracting each other through a desk)
  • “Watch, I can control where north is.” (moving the compass needle with a magnet)
  • “This magnet is stronger, I like it better.”
  • “The magnets flip when I try to stick them together, it is like they don’t want to be together.”

The students were naturally exploring some of the learning outcomes such as how to magnetize an object, magnetic poles and their magnetic field and the effects of magnetic pull without direct contact. These are all investigations that they will have opportunities to explore more directly in further lessons.

Establishing what students already know and presume allows me as a teacher to differentiate teaching and learning and consider extensions for further learning if a basic concept has been grasped. In my classroom, we call these extensions “challenges” to complement our emphasis on growth mindset.

As part of this unit students will be asked to use the design process to construct a game, toy or a useful device that uses gravitational, magnetic or electrostatic forces. As a result of their preliminary exploration, they can start thinking about what they may design.

The teaching guide includes six investigations, the first one being what we just did in class, and I am using it to complement my planning.

When each group was nearing the end of their exploration time I showed them this trick and encouraged them all to try it. This will lead us into the next lesson when we explore the poles of a magnet. With this kit of Classrooms Attractions, our science lessons have become much more interesting!

Written by Chris, an elementary and middle school teacher in Pembina Trails School Division.

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