Fun With Magnets

This week we spent one whole morning (plus a bit of the afternoon) exploring magnets.

We started out by reading a chapter of The Magic School Bus: Amazing Magnetism.

I was delighted to find that the story is structured around a competition, the prize for which is a pizza party – this was a book that was going to appeal to at least two of J(7)’s passions! We read chapters in between doing our own experiments, which kept J nicely engaged.

Making a Magnet

We stroked a magnet along a needle in the same direction about twelve times to create a temporary magnet.

A magnet is made up of many tiny mini-magnets, or “domains”, which all line up and point the same way. Any metal that sticks to a magnet also has domains.  These are jumbled up – but a magnet can make them line up, and the metal temporarily becomes a magnet.

When we dropped our needle magnet on the table a few times, the domains became jumbled again and the needle was no longer magnetic.  Heat also jumbles the domains.

Magnetic Fields

One of the books we used, Magnet Science, comes with a sealed transparent box of iron filings. We observed the patterns the iron filings made when we applied different shaped magnets.  The patterns showed us each magnet’s invisible magnetic field lines.

Paperclip Challenge

I gave each child a glass of water with a paperclip at the bottom and challenged them to remove the paperclip without putting their hand in the water. Straight away they dipped the magnet into the water, so I had to add “… and without getting the magnet wet”, at which point they figured it out!

“Floating” Magnet

We used the fact that magnets with the same poles repel each other to create a cool illusion. We forced two repelling magnets together with a couple of pencils in between, and taped the magnets together. On removing the pencils, magnetic force keeps the top magnet hovering in mid-air!

Measuring Magnetic Force

We placed a paperclip at the zero end of a ruler and a magnet at the other end.  Then we slowly moved the magnet towards the clip and recorded the distance in centimetres between the two at the point when the clip jumped onto the magnet. We tried this with different magnets to compare their strengths.

Magnetic Force and Gravity

This time we taped the zero end of the ruler perpendicular to the table and repeated the measuring process. We noted that this time the magnet had to be closer to make the clip jump, because its force is competing with another force – gravity.

Making a Compass

We taped a bar magnet to the base of a small plastic pot and floated the pot in a large bowl of water. After leaving the water and magnet to settle for a minute, we used a dry wipe marker to mark (on the large bowl) where the north and south poles of the magnet pointed. When we turned the magnet pot around, it returned to the same spot, its poles aligned with the Earth’s magnetic north and south.

(Happily, this confirmed our recent discovery, when we were learning about the beginning of Islam, that Mecca is in the direction of our pear tree!)

Marble Races

We taped magnets to the underside of a piece of cardboard, propped it up to make a ramp, and raced metal and glass marbles down it. We used our strongest magnets and an old iPad box, but it was difficult to see whether the magnetic marble or the glass marble won the race – I think we would have seen better results with a longer ramp.

Magnetic Art

We put a piece of paper on top of a magnet and made our own executive toy – paperclip sculpture. 🙂

Magnetic Rock

We looked at pictures of magnetite, a naturally magnetic rock first found at a place called Magnesia in Ancient Greece.

Resources

Books

The Magic School Bus: Amazing Magnetism gave us a story to structure our experiments around.  The best experiments came from The Usborne Book of Science Activities Volume One. We also used Magnet Science (Hands-on Science), which comes with iron filings and a set of magnets.

Websites

This Squidoo lens has stacks of magnet ideas and links to resources.

Steve Spangler explains what magnets are and talks about their history.  More experiments here too.

What Next?

The children’s interest in magnetite and in the causes of the Earth’s magnetic forces (not to mention Minecraft) got me thinking that this could be a good time to find out more about rocks. Watch this space!

Magnetism also relates to electricity, which C explored in a recent project. (We loved The Magic School Bus and the Electric Field Trip, which taught me a few things about electromagnetism.)  We’ll come back to this topic next time we look at magnetism.

Do you know of any fun magnet experiments?

To see what other homeschoolers have been up to this week, check out Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners and It’s a Wrap at Hammock Tracks.

For more science posts, visit Science Sunday at Adventures in Mommydom.

Project-Based Learning: Electricity and Magnetism

Project-based homeschooling in our newly reorganised space has got off to a great start, with all three of us learning a lot! Today I’ll talk about what Cordie (8) has been doing in her project time.

Cordie’s Electricity and Magnetism Project

Cordie immediately knew she wanted to do her first project on electricity and magnetism. Over the summer she read a few books I’d strewed around (in response to her expressed interest) – including  The Magic School Bus and the Electric Field Trip, Thomas A Edison – Young inventor, and How Benjamin Franklin Stole the Lightening.  By September she was ready to get hands-on!

Klutz Electricity and Magnetism Kit

When we set up her new project desk the first thing Cordie did was decorate it with a picture of Ben Franklin. 🙂  Next she got out our Klutz Electricity and Magnetism kit (which she had last played with a year ago) and experimented with connecting the wires to make the light bulb glow and the buzzer sound.

Then she ran up to her bedroom and used the bulb and wires to illuminate her upstairs landing of her dolls’ house.

She loved the effect of this, and talked about how she’d like to light up the whole house, but thought it would be inconvenient to have the lights on all the time.  I was very proud of myself for not leaping in with suggestions about switches! Instead I smiled, nodded interestedly, and made notes in my project journal. I’ve included a photo of the lit up house in the photo collage I put up on her pin board, to act as a visual reminder.

Snap Circuits

Next Cordie wanted to browse Amazon for electricity kits.  She found this one (which I was happy to invest in on the basis it goes right through to KS3 (the end of middle school)).

This was the perfect next step – having played with the Klutz kit she understood that circuit components contain metal wires that have to be connected, but the relative ease of being able to snap the the Primary Electricity kit parts together meant she could make more complex circuits without the fiddliness of ensuring the wires were properly connected.   Knowing that there are no loose connections prompts a young scientist to look for other explanations as to why a circuit isn’t working!

Cordie’s spent most of her project sessions since then methodically assembling the components of the kit, following instructions in the accompanying manual.  I’ve sat quietly beside her as she worked, lending a hand on request to snap together tricky parts or to read aloud from the manual while she does the assembling.

Collaboration

I learned from Project-Based Homeschooling that collaboration is an important part of project work, and this has happened naturally so far. It first happened at home as Jasper (7) watched Cordie put together circuits and asked if he could play with the kit too.  They spent hours over the following days putting together and discussing circuits.  (During those few days I had to bulk buy 2 Amp fuses, much to the consternation of the nice elderly gentleman in the local electrical shop, who looked at me with concern and asked  nervously, “Is it the same appliance that keeps on breaking?”)

Cordie also discovered that a friend at our home ed group is interested in circuits too, in particular robotics circuits, and they’ve agreed to take their kits along next time, to explore together.

How Project-Based Learning Feels

Obviously a lot of learning is happening during these project sessions, which lifts the heart of any homeschooling mum, but there’s so much more to it.  I’m absolutely loving observing Cordie’s natural learning process in a way that wasn’t possible when I thought my role was to actively direct the process.  A few times she’s said she’s worried I’m bored (sitting quietly, doing as she asks) and each time I’ve given her a genuine reassurance that I’m really enjoying just being there beside her.  I sense that she’s beginning to relax a little now and trust that this is the real deal, that I’m not about to pounce and take over her project, or wander off bored and do my own thing. And that trust and sense of ease is carrying over into the rest of our homeschooling life.

Jasper has been using his project-time quite differently, but with equally pleasing results. I’ll talk more about that next time.