Investigation Sequence



Written by:

Lisa Ristau and Rachel Engdahl



Focus Questions

What are magnets? What can magnets do?
How do we know something is accurate? How do we understand?


Content: Earth, Physical, & Life

Every magnet has a magnetic field, which interacts with the magnetic field of other magnets or objects.

Cross cutting concepts

Explanations are created from evidence and tell how different objects interact.

Science Practice


Personal, Social, Technology, Nature of Science, History


Background information

Magnets interact with each other and materials that have iron, cobalt, or nickel. Magnets do not all look alike and vary in strengths. Magnets have magnetic fields. Poles are the strongest points on a magnet.


Activity Sequence

1. The Law of Magnetic Attraction
2. Magnetic Attractions
3. Passing Magnetism
4. Human Magnets
5. Flexing those Magnet Muscles

Activity Descriptions

Activity 1:
The Law of Magnetic Attraction
Plastic bottle (one per small group), Iron shavings (per group), Magnet (bar magnets, if possible), Paper, Pencil/Pen
1. What will happen when iron filings are brought close to a magnet?
2. Students will receive and experiment with a plastic bottle, a magnet, and some iron shavings or iron filings to demonstrate the magnetic attractions.
3. Instruct students NOT to open the bottles!
4. Observe what happens and record/draw on paper (students will observe a magnetic field.
5. Tap the bottle lightly with your finger.
6. Observe what happens now and record/draw.
7. Discuss what students have just observed.
8. Have the students predict what will happen if they tap the bottle lightly again.
9. Repeat the process.
10. What evidence do you have that suggest the magnet is interacting with the iron filings?
11. Does the magnet interact at a distance? Do you think it would in other ways?
12. Is the magnet really holding it? Is it magic? What really is interacting with the iron filings? This discussion will lead the idea of a magnetic field.
13. Did you observe where the most iron filings are being attracted to the magnet?
14. Where? Tell them that scientist call these areas the poles of the magnet.
15. What else might we do to study magnetism?
16. What other ways can we use evidence to explain events?

Activity 2
Magnetic Attractions
Small bar magnets, Assorted objects such as paper clips, coins, straws, washers, crayons, pieces of aluminum foil
1. Ask students to think about how they could record data? (Chart, Journal, etc.) Explain that each group of students will receive a bag of materials and a magnet. What kind of information will be collected? (Whether the material is attracted to the magnet or not.) How could we organize this information? (In a chart). Explain that students should first make predictions and record them.
2. Have the students write yes or no to indicate their predictions about whether or not each item on the list will stick to a magnet.
3. Once the students have predictions, invite them to test the objects and record their results. After testing the six objects on the list, students can find four more objects to test. They should write the name of each object, record their predictions, and then test each object.
4. When all groups are finished, gather all students together. List the first six objects on chart paper and ask the students to answer this question: Does (the object) stick to a magnet?
5. After you have recorded the results for the first six objects, have the students list the additional items that they tested. Ask the students the same question as above. Record the information.
6. Using the information collected from this experiment, what can the students say about the kinds of objects that will stick to a magnet? (Do all metal objects stick to a magnet? Shiny objects?) Many children will predict that anything made of metal will stick to the magnet, but this is not the case. Objects made of iron, nickel, or cobalt are attracted to magnets. Objects of aluminum, copper and lead are not. Discuss the students’ ideas and compile and display a list of the characteristics of things that stick to magnets.
7. Ask how the chart/list helped them (helped them organize the observational evidence so they could look for a pattern).
8. Where else could they use a chart to help?
9. How do we know our ideas are accurate or right?

Activity 3:
Passing Magnetism
A magnet, Paper clips (more than your magnet can hold), Several objects of almost the same thickness (plastic wrap, wax paper, aluminum foil, tin can, cloth, paper, oak tag): A wooden ruler, Cardboard, Glass (a jar), Heavy cloth, and a container with water.
1. Remind students that in the first activity the magnet attracted to the iron filings through a bottle. Do you think a magnet could attract objects through other materials? What materials?
2. Give each group the needed materials and allow them to experiment. Remind them to first make predictions and then test them. Remind students to record their results.
3. If groups are having trouble have students predict how many clips the magnet will hold though each material and record.
4. Have the students lift up as many clips as possible though a wooden ruler, cardboard, glass, heavy cloth, and water and record their results.
5. Have the students share their findings with the class.
6. Ask the students to conduct the same experiments again only arrange the clips to maximize the number that can be held.
7. Relate the experience to others about magnets.
8. Allow students to test other materials.
9. Ask students to summarize how magnetism will or will not go through materials.
10. Ask what evidence they have to support this claim.
11. Ask how do they know they are accurate?
12. How do scientists know if they are accurate?
13. How can they use what they learned about magnetism and using evidence outside school?

Activity 4:
Human Magnets
Magnets, Colored stickers, Students
1. Remind students that they tested to see if magnets attract various materials. How do you think magnets react with each other? (Attract each other, repel each other, etc)
2. How could we test to see if magnets attract each other? (Play with two magnets.)
3. Give each pair of students two magnets and allow them time to explore.
4. Ask the students how the magnets react with each other. (It pushes away sometimes and attracts sometimes.)
5. Ask the student if they noticed which colors attracted each other and which colors repelled. (Opposite colors attract and the same colors repel).
6. Suggest that scientists put their data on a chart to help see patterns. Suggest that they put their data onto a chart. Ask how they could do it (put the colors on one magnet red/yellow across the top of the chart and the colors of the other magnet red/yellow down the side of the chart. Then they can put how each color interacts with the other in the intersecting cells (repel, attract – top row and attract, repel – bottom row).

  Red Blue
  Red Yellow

7. Scientists call these parts of the magnet the poles. They call them the north and south poles. We are going to do an activity where we pretend to be magnets. Explain that all students will put a red sticker on their front side and a blue sticker on their backside.
8. Have all the students stand in a circle facing the center. Explain the rule that if they are facing the same direction they cannot touch each other. If they are facing in the opposite direction than their neighbors, then they need to make a connection and hold hands.
9. Have every other child turn around and face away from the center. Ask if the students see any connections that can be made. Have everyone face the front again.
10. Repeat the above exercise about three times. Each time use a different pattern of selecting children to face away from the center. (2 in, 1 out) (3 in, 2 out) (Etc.). After each selection, ask the students to look for connections that can be made.
11. Discuss the activity and relate to the magnets. How were you like a magnet? What colors attracted and what colors repelled? Was this like the real magnets?
12. Ask students to summarize how magnetism will or won’t attract.
13. Ask what evidence they have to support their claims.
14. Ask why did we put our observational evidence on the chart. How did it help?
15. Where might we use the information that we learned?

Activity 5:
Flexing those Magnet Muscles!
Magnets of different sizes and shapes, pencil, 20 small nails, 20 large nails, 20 metal paper clips,
1. Remind students about the experiments they have previously completed dealing with magnets. Do you think that different sizes and shapes of magnets will have an effect on attraction?
2. Students will be placed in learning station that contain all necessary materials. Students will have a set time to formulate a hypothesis, test the hypothesis and come up with a conclusion. Predictions and outcomes are to be written in each group. Examples: Larger magnets will pick up more… Smaller magnets will pick up … The size of a magnet will …
3. Each group will begin to research.
4. Make a pile of 20 nails on a desk.
5. Choose one magnet and place it on the pile of nails.
6. Slowly lift it out of the pile and record the number of nails it picks up. Repeat steps 4 and 5 with the remaining magnets.
7. Replace the nails with the 20 paper clips and repeat steps 3, 4, and 5. Compare the results from the first experience.


Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes