Magnetism #33

(grades 3 - 8)
Soft-bound, 64 page book, 20 reproducible activity sheets, full teaching notes.

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A most compelling and instructive follow-up to Electricity #32, and every bit as much fun. Students employ simple techniques to discover and map interacting magnetic fields, and to graph the strength of magnetic fields over distance. They build compasses, motors, buzzers, and other ingenious inventions, improvising with refrigerator magnets and cheap, simple stuff. So incredibly little teaches so much! An all-time favorite title with both students and instructors.

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Magnetism Starter Kit

book and magnets NOT included, please order separately

WE SUPPLY the following items in quantities that serve one student or two students working in a lab pair: size-D battery, thin and thick copper wire, paper clips, straight pins, aluminum foil, thread, masking tape, clear tape, styrofoam cups, index cards, plastic cups, permanent marker, nails, washers, clothespins, modeling clay, rubber bands, manila folders, rice grains. YOU SUPPLY ceramic magnets, scissors, pennies, hole punch, glass jars, staples.


Hey! Check out THE WINNING VIDEO in our contest, which incorporates an actual lab from Magnetism #33!

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  • teaching tips
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Table of Contents for #33 Magnetism:

Preparation and Support

A TOPS Teaching Model • Getting Ready • Gathering Materials • Sequencing Activities • Gaining a Whole Perspective • Review/Test Questions • Long Range Objectives

Activities and Lesson Notes

  1. 1. Is It Magnetic?
  2. 2. Name that Pole
  3. 3. Pin Magnets
  4. 4. Invisible Gears
  5. 5. Up in the Air
  6. 6. Strength of a Magnet
  7. 7. Magnet Models
  8. 8. Hairline Compass
  9. 9. Letter Puzzles
  10. 10. Which Way?
  11. 11. Map a Magnetic Field
  12. 12. Opposite Fields Attract
  13. 13. Like Fields Repel
  14. 14. Build an Electromagnet
  15. 15. Hat-Pins Compass
  16. 16. Pin Motors
  17. 17. Dots and Dashes
  18. 18. Does It Buzz It?
  19. 19. On-Off Motor
  20. 20. Rice Roundup

Supplementary Cut Outs

magnetic models • international Morse code


Complete Master List for #33 Magnetism:

Key: (1st/2nd/3rd) denote needed quantities: (1st) enough for 1 student doing all activities; (2nd) enough for 30 students working in self-paced pairs; (3rd) enough for 30 students working in pairs on the same lesson. Starred* items may be purchased below.

  1. * 2/60/60: ceramic magnets
  2. * 1/1/1: box paper clips
  3. * 1/1/1: box steel straight pins, 1 inch
  4. * 1/1/1: roll aluminum foil
  5. 8/40/120: pennies
  6. * 1/1/1: spool thread
  7. * 1/1/1: roll masking tape
  8. * 1/1/1: roll clear tape
  9. 1/10/15: pairs scissors
  10. 1/1/3: hole punch

  11. 1/10/15: styrofoam cups, small size
  12. 2/20/30: 3x5 inch index cards
  13. * 2/30/30: plastic cups
  14. 1/1/1: black permanent markers
  15. * 1/15/15: 2 1/2 inch iron nails
  16. * 5/75/75: feet bell wire with soft-plastic, easily-stripped insulation
  17. * 1/15/15: size-D batteries
  18. * 9/36/135: iron washers
  19. * 2/20/30: wooden clothespins
  20. * 1/1/1: packages modeling clay

  21. 1/5/15: jars or equivalent
  22. * 2/10/30: rubber bands
  23. * 8/40/120: cm thin bare copper or aluminum wire, about 30 or 32 gauge
  24. 1/3/8: manila folders or pressed cardboard
  25. 2/12/30: clothes hangers or rigid, flat rulers
  26. 1/1/1: package uncooked rice grains
  27. 1/1/1: box staples

Convenient Shopping:

Magnetism Class Kit

book and magnets NOT included, please order separately

WE SUPPLY all items in our above Starter Kit in quantities that serve up to 30 students working in 15 lab pairs: YOU SUPPLY other materials as detailed above.

Aluminum Foil

regular strength, 20 square feet x 12 inches rolls

Buy aluminum foil here as a convenience item, or for less in many grocery stores.


size-D, alkaline

These are basic workhorse brands, available everywhere.

Clay - modeling

oil-based, non-drying

Sold by the 100 gram stick, about 1/4 cup, in assorted colors (our choice). One stick serves a whole classroom for TOPS applications.


wooden, spring-action

These are handy lab items to keep in stock. We use them as bulb holders, tongs, clips, and more.

Cups - plastic

9 or 10 ounce; clear, flexible, plastic

"Solo" brand or equivalent sold in grocery stores is suitable. Avoid brittle plastic. Used in #16 Pressure.

Magnet - ceramic

rectangle, 3/16 inch thick

Your basic refrigerator magnet, about the width and length of a large postage stamp, with N and S poles on each face and a hole in the middle. A useful and popular science supply used in may TOPS titles. Purchase at least 2 per student.

Nails - 2 1/2 inch

steel carpenter's flat-head nail, 10-penny

Used in some TOPS titles. A surprisingly handy scientific supply.

Paper Clips

size #1, steel, box of 100

Paper clips have 1001 uses in TOPS experiments, and science in general. Feel free to use paper clips you already have, but be aware that different brands come in different sizes and weights. In experiments where uniformity is important, don't mix brands.

Rubber Bands - assorted

10 grams each of thin, medium and thick

You get 30 grams of soft, strong, durable rubber bands: thin #16 (about 50), medium #32 (about 20), and heavy-duty #64 (about 10). These sizes are specifically selected to work in most TOPS experiments.

Straight Pins

steel, one and 1/16 inch long

Used in many TOPS experiments. Sometimes required for their magnetic properties. Don't purchase aluminum straight pins by mistake.

Tape - clear

3/4 inch x 1000 inch roll

Your standard desk tape with matte write-on surface.

Tape - masking

3/4 inch x 55 yd roll

A handy science supply used in most TOPS modules.


light duty, 25 yd spool

Just plain old thread. Used in many TOPS titles, especially in Pendulums #34.

Washers - small

7/8 inch flat washer with 3/8 inch hole

Used in many TOPS labs. Item #1290 (medium tubing) used in #16 Pressure fits through these smaller washers.

Wire - wrapping

100 feet, plastic insulated

Also called magnet wire or bell wire. This science-lab staple is used in #19 Electricity, #20 Magnetism, #33 Magnetism, and #91 Global TOPS.

Wrapping wire may be recycled from old motors or transformers. If insulated with paint rather than plastic tubing, end leads will need to be sandpapered clean, not stripped with pliers.

Wire - very thin copper

bare wire

The thinner the better. Old household appliance cords may be braided into suitably thin strands. Nip the insulation with wire stripping pliers, then pull off the insulation to inspect. This is a speciality item for #20 Magnetism and #33 Magnetism.

Teaching Tips for #33 Magnetism:

Take apart those used electric toothbrush heads and pull out both powerful magnets. Try substituting these in selected experiments for our less powerful ceramic magnets, then tell us how these enhance or possibly change your experimental results. (CAUTION: small magnets are extremely dangerous if swallowed, as two or more can attract each other through intestinal walls. Never leave younger children unsupervised with small magnets.)

As with many TOPS units, these activities give helpful practice in reading and following directions and encourage independent study. Physical results give almost instant feedback, and quick success builds student focus, confidence and enthusiasm. Magnetism is a particularly good subject for students for whom English is not their native language.

Keep a few magnets available in a corner workstation for students who finish tests early, or for constructive activity on rainy days. Consider extra credit for students who construct new physics experiments using magnetism.

NOTE: We encourage improvisation - it's one of the main goals of our hands-on approach! You and your students might invent a simpler, sturdier or more accurate system; might ask a better question; might design a better extension. Hooray for ingenuity! When this occurs, we'd love to hear about it and share it with other educators. Please send ideas and photos to

Lesson by Lesson Objectives for #33 Magnetism:

  1. Lesson 1: To recognize that only a few metals, like iron and steel, are magnetic, while most other materials and nonmetals are not.
  2. Lesson 2: To identify and label the north and south poles on unmarked magnets by using Earth's magnetic field as a reference.
  3. Lesson 3: To experimentally determine the pole orientation of pin magnets.
  4. Lesson 4: To observe interactions between rotating magnetic fields.
  5. Lesson 5: To appreciate that a magnetic field can pass through solid objects, as long as they are not magnetic.
  6. Lesson 6: To graph how the strength of a magnet varies with increased distance from the magnet.
  7. Lesson 7: To develop a simple interpretive model to explain differences between strong magnets, weak magnets, magnetic materials, and nonmagnetic materials.
  8. Lesson 8: To build an accurate compass by suspending a magnetized pin from a strand of hair.
  9. Lesson 9: To practice plotting compass directions with a ruler and magnetic compass.
  10. Lesson 10: To draw a birds-eye view of the classroom as accurately to scale as possible. To compare compass directions on this map to actual compass directions in the room.
  11. Lesson 11: To map the shape of a magnetic field that surrounds a magnet.
  12. Lesson 12: To map the shape of two interacting magnetic fields that attract.
  13. Lesson 13: To map the shape of two interacting magnetic fields that repel.
  14. Lesson 14: To learn how to construct and use an electromagnet. To appreciate that electromagnets are temporary, working only when electricity passes through the coil.
  15. Lesson 15: To build a compass by balancing two magnetized pins upon a third.
  16. Lesson 16: To build simplified models of an electric motor. To understand how they work.
  17. Lesson 17: To build a working model of a telegraph. To understand how it functions.
  18. Lesson 18: To build a working model of a buzzer. To understand how it operates.
  19. Lesson 19: To build a tiny motor that spins by turning itself on and off. To understand how it works.
  20. Lesson 20: To enjoy a game of skill using magnets.

National Science Education Standards (NRC 1996) for #33 Magnetism:

TEACHING Standards

These 20 Activity Sheets promote excellence in science teaching by these NSES criteria:
Teachers of science...
A: ...plan an inquiry-based science program. (p. 30)
B: and facilitate learning. (p. 32)
C: ...engage in ongoing assessment of their teaching and of student learning. (p. 37)
D: and manage learning environments that provide students with the time, space, and resources needed for learning science. (p. 43)

CONTENT Standards

These 20 Activity Sheets contain fundamental content as defined by these NSES guidelines (p. 109).
• Represent a central event or phenomenon in the natural world.
• Represent a central scientific idea and organizing principle.
• Have rich explanatory power.
• Guide fruitful investigations.
• Apply to situations and contexts common to everyday experiences.
• Can be linked to meaningful learning experiences.
• Are developmentally appropriate for students at the grade level specified.

Unifying Concepts and Processes

NSES Framework: Systems, order, and organization • Evidence, models and explanation • Constancy, change, and measurement • Evolution and equilibrium • Form and function
Core Concepts/Processes: Like poles repel, unlike poles attract. • North on a compass is attracted to magnetic north because Earth is a giant mislabeled magnet. • A magnetic field has force and direction • The strength of a magnet increases with the degree of alignment of its magnetic domains. • Electromagnetism is a core function underlying many technological forms.

Science as Inquiry (content standard A)

NSES Framework: Identify questions that can be answered through scientific investigations. • Design and conduct a scientific investigation. • Use appropriate tools and techniques to gather, analyze, and interpret data. • Develop descriptions, explanations, predictions, and models using evidence. • Think critically and logically to connect evidence and explanations. • Recognize and analyze alternative explanations and predictions. • Communicate scientific procedures and explanations. • Use mathematics in all aspects of scientific inquiry.
Core Inquiries: What does a magnetic field look like? • Graph how its strength changes with distance.

Physical Science (content standard B)

NSES Framework: Light, heat, electricity, and magnetism • Properties and changes of properties in matter • Motions and forces • Transfer of energy
Core Content: Magnetic and nonmagnetic • Magnetic poles • Attraction • Repulsion • Permanent magnets • Induced magnets • Electromagnets • Magnetic force fields • Magnetic domains • Magnetic field strength • Compasses • Motors • Buzzers • Telegraphs

Earth and Space Science (content standard D)

NSES Framework: Properties of earth materials • Structure of the earth system
Core Content: Iron has magnetic properties • Earth is a giant mislabeled magnetic • Scale Drawings • Orienteering

Science and Technology (content standard E)

NSES Framework: Abilities of technological design • Understanding about science and technology
Core Content: Invent gadgets: compasses, electromagnets, telegraphs, buzzers, and motors. Understand how they work.