How to Teach Magnets Science and Engineering Design

Teach magnets science and engineering design with hands-on activities. Start with labs or stations that teach kids basic concepts. Then offer a series of STEM challenges. They’ll love it!

Teach third grade standards with magnets engineering design and science activities.

Ms. Sanchez Teaches Magnets Science and Engineering Design

Our favorite third grade teacher sat at the back table with her teaching partner. “Let’s continue planning our physical science activities. We’ve already taught our students about the attraction of static electricity. Our new science standards also ask us to teach magnets science and engineering design. What should we do?”

Magnets Science Concepts and Activities

Mr. Jones tapped his pencil on the table. “Let’s make a list of magnets science concepts. Then we can create stations to go with them.”

“Great! That way, we’ll be able to rotate our lab groups through the centers in one day. Since we don’t have much time for science, we need to do more stations.”

What Materials Do Magnets Attract?

“First,” said Mr. Jones, “kids need to know what magnets attract.”

“That’s an easy one,” Ms. Sanchez said. “Students can test a variety of objects to see if magnets attract them. Then they’ll find that all materials attracted are metal, but not all metals are attracted. For example, magnets don’t attract aluminum or copper.”

“We can make a simple lab sheet with two columns: attracts and doesn’t attract. After kids are done testing, they can draw conclusions.”

To teach magnet science concepts, start with attraction.

Magnets Science Concept: Magnets attract or repel certain metals (e.g., iron, cobalt, steel, and nickel), as well as other magnets.

Do Opposites Really Attract?

“For the next science magnets concept,” Mr. Jones continued, “kids can find out if opposites really attract.”

“Hmm,” said his teaching partner. “Maybe students can use a compass to identify poles of two magnets. Then they can test them to see if north and south, north and north, and south and south attract one another.”

“Perfect. Let’s make a lab sheet that gives directions. As an extension, they can build their own compasses.”

In the second magnets science activity, students discover that opposites really do attract.

Magnets Science Concept: Opposite poles attract; like poles repel.

Does Distance Attract Magnetism?

“For the next magnets science station,” said Ms. Sanchez, “I think we should address distance. You know, students hold magnets at different distances from one another to see if they’ll attract.”

“Okay, that sounds good. I envision a lab sheet with places to lay the bar magnets.”

Kids hold magnets at different distances to see if they pull together.

Magnets Science Concept: A magnet’s attraction decreases as it gets farther away from an object.

What Is a Temporary Magnet?

“Did you build temporary magnets in school?” Mr. Jones asked.

Ms. Sanchez shook her head. “I can’t say that I did.”

With a smile, Mr. Jones explained. “In my third grade class, the teacher had us make paperclip chains.”

He walked over to the science cabinet and pulled out a magnet. Then he went to his desk and grabbed some paperclips. Finally, he walked to the back table.

“Sorry for the interruption,” he said. “I wanted to show you this. It’s pretty cool.”

First, he held a paperclip to one end of the magnet. It hung toward the ground. Second, he touched the end of another paperclip to the first. Magically, it attached itself. Mr. Jones added two more paperclips, and they made a chain.

“Awesome!” Ms. Sanchez exclaimed. “The kids will love this.”

To her surprise, Mr. Jones pulled the paperclip chain off of the magnet – and they stayed attached!

“Wow! These stations will blow our kids’ minds. This is so great.”

Try making a paperclip chain with a magnet. It illustrates how temporary magnets are formed.

Magnets Science Concept: A temporary magnet forms in a magnetic field. However, it eventually loses its magnetism.

Can Magnets Attract Through Objects?

“As the grand finale, we can have kids test attraction through different materials,” said Mr. Jones.

“We could start with something really thin, like a sheet of paper. Then they could test attraction through cardboard, a tablet of paper, and the table.”

“Or maybe even through their hands! And to make it even more fun and educational, they could try it again with a stack of two magnets.”

Kids test attraction through different thicknesses.

Magnets Science Concept: If a magnet is strong enough, it can attract through other objects.

Magnets Engineering Design

Ms. Sanchez sat back with a satisfied smile. “These stations provide a fun way to teach the magnets science standard. Let’s tackle the magnets engineering design standard next.”

Her teaching partner looked through their third grade standards document. “Hmm. In these activities, we’ll integrate science and engineering design. Kids are supposed to define a simple design problem that can be solved with scientific ideas about magnets.”

Ms. Sanchez sighed. “We haven’t taught our students to define engineering design problems yet this year. So first, we need to explain criteria and constraints.”

“Yes, but what type of design problems should kids do?”

With a twinkle in her eye, Ms. Sanchez said, “Magic.”

“Awesome! What a great idea. Our kids can design acts for a magic show.”

Criteria and Constraints

Ms. Sanchez sat in thought for a moment. Then she said, “Maybe we can start with a simple design problem. For example, Malcolm the Magician wants to design a new stage for his act. That’s the need or want. The stage must be five meters wide, three meters deep, and five meters tall. Additionally, it must be soundproofed and have a trap door.”

“And those are the criteria,” said Mr Jones. “For constraints, we could say Malcolm only has $150 and one week to build the stage.”

“With this situation, we can explain how to define a design problem – and introduce the magic show theme.”

When teaching magnets engineering design, begin with an explanation of how to define a problem with criteria and constraints.

Magnets Engineering Design Challenges

After Mr. Jones and Ms. Sanchez brainstormed ideas for their STEM activities, they had a list of challenges for their kids:

  • Levitate a paperclip
  • Move a small object with your hand without touching it
  • Use telekinesis
  • Choose the correct card from a deck
  • Move a toy car without touching it

“To save time, I’ll assign one challenge to each science group in my room,” said Mr. Jones.

For magnets engineering design challenges, consider asking kids to create magic acts.

Enjoy Teaching

“These ideas for teaching magnets offer seriously fun science activities,” said Ms. Sanchez. “The kids will love them – and I will too!”

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