Day 1: Gaining Familiarity
Lesson Plan

Day Goals:

Introduce the background ideas of magnetism.
Reveal student conceptions/explanations of magnetic phenomena.

Student Learning Objectives:

Demonstrate the effect of one magnet on other magnets.
Demonstrate that attraction and repulsion are related to relative geometric orientation of the magnets and not external parameters.
Demonstrate that magnetic strength increases as separation decreases.
Demonstrate that certain types of materials in the environment, while not themselves magnetic, do interact with magnets.


Prepare packs of material for each group. Include in each pack:

Web Resources:

Opening Discussion: (5-8 minutes)

Magnetism has been 'used' for several thousand years.
Magnetism has been understood by science for c. 150 years.
Magnetic objects exert a force on other magnetic objects and act in a particular direction.

Student Activities with Materials

  1. Work with magnets to verify attraction, repulsion happens.
  2. Agree to a sign convention that allows them to designate the relative sign of the ends of a magnet.
  3. Work with ring magnets and washers stacked on pencil to determine magnetic force of interaction is inversely related to separation.
  4. Work with magnetic pendulum to determine how pieces of metal, wood, string, rubber or the plastic and metal boxes alter the attraction or repulsion between two magnets.
  5. Drop a magnet through the copper and plastic tubes to discover whether magnets alter and modify the space they are located in.
  6. Attempt to magnetize a paperclip.

Closing Class Discussion

Lead discussion that draws out the student observations made during activity.

Suggested Homework Assignments

Ask students to design a method for detecting a magnetic field.
(A possible hint is to remind them of the nature of Newton's Third Law: that which feels the force must also be able to exert the same force.)

Ask students to design a method for determining the strength of a magnet.
(Quite hard to do as you need a reference magnet of known strength. The method of choice is to use a current or a Hall Effect probe but students don't know this.)

Ask students to design a method to find the dependence between separation of magnets and the force of interaction.
(Quite hard to do as assumptions about center of magnet coinciding with center of mass and rotational effects have a significant effect.)

Use Newton's Law to calculate the magnetic force of interaction on a magnetic pendulum in the vicinity of a 2nd magnet. The students cannot assume the magnetic force is completely horizontal. The following free body diagram is suggested:
Free Body Diagram
The smallest angle of B with the horizontal is gamma. The larger angle of T with the horizontal is theta. The weight (mg) is along the downward vertical. Find B(gamma,theta,W). Solve for the three cases gamma = 0, gamma = 90, gamma = theta.

Lesson Development/Writing: Ed Eckel
Web Design: Theresa Valentine
Last Updated: 8/15/2000