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  • Subject: Physical Science
  • |
  • Grade(s): 9-12
  • |
  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. Only certain materials can be attracted by a magnet.
2. Those materials contain iron.
3. Magnetism is caused by the behavior of atoms in a magnet.


In addition to research materials on magnetism and a computer with Internet access for the whole class, the following materials should be available for each group:
Variety of objects including some that will and some that will not be attracted by a magnet (suggestions: aluminum foil, silver or gold jewelry, high-iron cereal crushed into a powder, crushed multivitamin tablet or emptied multivitamin capsule that contains iron, piece of videotape, piece of audiotape, inside of a computer disk
Strong magnet


1. Review with your students what they have learned about magnetism. Encourage them to discuss their experience with magnets, including experiments they have performed. Then let them know that they are about to perform a series of simple experiments that will show which of a group of objects will be attracted to a magnet.
2. Divide the class into groups, providing each group with the materials listed above.
3. Before they experiment, have the groups meet to predict which materials will be attracted by the magnet and which will not. They should devise charts on which to record their predictions.
4. Have group members take turns testing each object or substance with the magnet. On their charts, they should record what was attracted by the magnet and what was not. Were their predictions confirmed?
5. Ask students if they can explain the results of their experiments. Then, divide the class into research groups, allowing students to use the materials you have provided, materials in the school library, or sources on the Internet to find out what causes magnetic attraction.
6. Each student should write a brief explanation of magnetism based on his or her research. The explanation should include a description of the behavior of atoms in a magnet, as well as reasons that the specific materials with which students experimented were or were not attracted by a magnet.
7. Have students share their explanations with their groups.

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Expect older students to produce longer, more detailed scientific explanations for magnetism, including labeled diagrams that enhance the text of their reports. For these students, you may want to omit the experiments.

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Discussion Questions

1. Discuss the idea of a magnetic reversal. Should we be monitoring the possibility of one more closely, or is it safe to assume that since the Earth has gone through reversals before that we will successfully survive another one?
2. Discuss the idea of integrating different disciplinary areas of science toward a common goal. Does this seem like a reasonable idea? Why might scientists not want to collaborate with colleagues from other disciplines or even with colleagues from their same area of discipline?
3. Discuss why studying bacteria and animals who use magnetic field lines for navigation is useful. Can you point out advantages to being able to navigate using magnetic field lines?
4. Discuss in depth the impact Michael Faraday has had on our society with his inventions of the electric motor and the electric generator. Why don't more people know who he is if his contributions have been so revolutionary?
5. Discuss whether more money should be designated for building a bigger particle accelerator. If you think the money should be spent, what or who should be the source of the money?
6. Discuss the idea of limitless, extremely cheap and clean power. Do you believe a source of power can truly be limitless? Why might some people not want to spend money for research on fusion? Who would not benefit from widespread use of fusion?

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You can evaluate your students on their explanations using the following three-point rubric:
Three points: accurate information; clear wording; logical organization; each material in experiments accounted for
Two points: adequate information; wording sometimes unclear; satisfactory organization; not all materials in experiments accounted for
One point: some inaccurate information; some unclear wording; organization unsatisfactory; not all materials in experiments accounted for
You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining what questions the explanations should answer.

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Orient Yourself
In advance, prepare several sets of directions for small groups of students to follow around the school. Each set of directions should tell how many steps to take going north, south, east, or west. It should also include a specific destination. Before having groups attempt to follow your directions, explain to the class how and why a compass works, and teach them how to use a compass. Then send small groups out of the classroom to follow the directions you have written and report back on whether they reached their intended destinations.

Northern Lights
Assign small groups of students to produce oral and/or written reports on some of the people whose cultures have been influenced by the Northern Lights, a phenomenon caused by Earth's magnetic field. Students should identify the cultures geographically and include various names, legends, and beliefs associated with the aurora in each culture. Students may also wish to compare the cultural influences of the aurora with those of other natural phenomena such as volcanic eruptions, solar eclipses, and comets.

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Suggested Readings

Hidden Attraction: the History and Mystery of Magnetism
Gerrit L. Verschuur, Oxford University Press, 1993
This popular work traces the path of human inquiry into the phenomenon of magnetism as far back as 2000 years ago, when magnetism was regarded with superstition. The work progresses through "The Birth of Magnetism," when Oersted announced in 1820 his observation of electromagnetism, to the scientific community's contemporary exploration of the role of magnetic fields in space.

Magnet Science
Glen Vecchione. Sterling Publishing, 1995.
Simple illustrations explain what magnets are, the different kinds of magnets, and how magnets work. A wide variety of experiments for students is followed by a discussion on the important uses magnets have in our world of high technology.

Magnet Science
Glen Vecchione, Sterling Publishers, 1995
This work guides middle school/junior high school students through a hands-on approach to understanding the principles of magnetism in the experiments that it outlines, replete with illustrations.

Science Projects About Electricity and Magnetism
Robert Gardner. Enslow, 1994.
Using a mix of explanations, illustrations, and experiments, this book explores electricity, magnetism, and the link between the two. Suggested experiments for students to try demonstrate everything from the properties of magnets to how to construct a simple electric motor.

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The Motor Principle
Lesson plans and instructions for constructing the simple motor shown in "Understanding: Magnetism" and being enjoyed by a group of children may be found at this Web site.

How an Electromagnet Works
The basic idea behind an electromagnet is extremely simple: by running electric current through a wire you can create a magnetic field.

Beakman's Electric Motor
With just a C cell, paperclips, a small magnet, rubber band and a coil of wire, students can build an operating electric motor that illustrates the role of electricity and magnetism in a simple, but fundamental, technology.

Electricity and Magnetism
Using a game format with interactive simulations, students will learn the basics of electricity and magnetism. The Shockwave plug-in is needed to view this website.

How Tape Recorders Work
Magnetic recording is a backbone technology of the electronic age. It is a fundamental way for permanently storing information:

Neodymium supermagnets come in very small packages, are now affordable, and are great for doing magnetics demonstrations. If you need ideas, Bill Beaty has plenty suggestions on how to use these little dipoles to dazzle your students.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    ore
Definition: A mineral or aggregate of minerals from which a valuable constituent, such as metal, can be profitably mined.
Context: Lodestone is an iron ore, a natural magnet.

speaker    converge
Definition: To approach an intersecting point.
Context: Like all magnets, the Earth's field lines converge at its magnetic poles.

speaker    plasma
Definition: An electrically neutral, highly ionized gas composed of ions, electrons, and neutral particles.
Context: When those charged particles hit the atmosphere they ionize it. They make a weak plasma like we see here.

speaker    charlatan
Definition: A person who makes elaborate and fraudulent claims to skill or knowledge.
Context: Though declared a charlatan and a quack by a Royal Commission, Mesmer had discovered something, the magnetic link between magic and medicine.

speaker    lexicon
Definition: A stock of terms used in a particular profession; a dictionary.
Context: Magnetic Resonance Imaging technology revolutionized health care and the acronym MRI entered the popular lexicon.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: science
Understands energy types, sources and conversions and their relationship to heat and temperature.
Knows that fission is the splitting of a large nucleus into smaller pieces, and fusion is the joining of two nuclei at extremely high temperature and pressure; nuclear reactions convert a fraction of the mass of interacting particles into energy.

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: science
Knows the kinds of forces that exist between objects and within atoms.
Knows that magnetic forces are very closely related to electric forces and can be thought of as different aspects of a single electromagnetic force: moving electric charges produce magnetic forces and moving magnets produce electric forces; the interplay of these forces is the basis for electric motors, generators, radio, television and many other modern technologies.

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: science
Understands the nature of scientific inquiry.
Knows that conceptual principles and knowledge guide scientific inquiries; historical and current scientific knowledge influence the design and interpretation of investigations and the evaluation of proposed explanations made by other scientists.

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: science
Understands the interactions of science, technology and society.
Knows that technological knowledge is often not made public because of patents and the financial potential of the idea or inventions; scientific knowledge is made public through presentations at professional meetings and publication in scientific journals.

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Karen K. Kennedy, chemistry and physics teacher, T.C. Williams High School, Alexandria, Virginia.

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