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Electricity and Magnetism

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Lessons and Ideas to help with a unit on electricity and magnets
Posted by:Lauren #77707

We have children build circuits with batteries, wires and lightbulbs. They fiddle around until they figure out how to light it, which teaches them how a closed circuit works. We use the FOSS Science kits which helps with materials, but these things shouldn't be hard to get.
We teach it along with magnetism and children have to create an invention that uses either magnetism or electricity. They also do research of inventors that were important in magnetism or electricity.
I've also done writing with this unit where students write about a time they had a bright idea. Hence, the lightbulb.
This is a hard concept for 4th graders, so I would keep it all pretty basic.

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Magnetism and electricity
Posted by:Sharon #20117

Hi! I always start with a book called Mickey's Magnet and then move on to testing objects in the classroom. Students use a recording sheet: does and doesn't stick. Magnets are inexpensive at craft stores. We then make a list and deduce that most metal objects are magnetic etc. I then move on to terminology and demonstrate force, push , pull attract and repel. I tie a paper clip to a chair with thin string and use a magnet to lift it without touching it. This is the force we cant see. I let them feel magnets attract and repel as well. I get iron filings to demonstrate magnetic field by having students move the filings with a magnet under a plate.

I use this to lead into static electricity and use balloons to demonstrate static on hair. The balloons can be charged on the hair and placed together...

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re: Electricity
Posted by:Ann #46681

A simple bulletin board that got my class thinking! It was entitled: Watt would we do without electricity? Each child was given a picture of a lightbulb (asked to color it in ) and asked to fill in the following sentence: If I didn't have electricity I would _______________. Example: If I didn't have electricity, I would read instead of watching tv.

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try experiment with induction
Posted by:Chris #90216

This is way late. I'm sorry I didn't see your message earlier. I'm not a teacher, but I have done lectures and demonstrations for classes before with electricity. I'm in college, and experimenting with electricity is one of my hobbies. My mom's a teacher and I've done demonstrations for her class and others. There are a lot of things you can do. One of my favorite, and one that wouldn't be too hard to set up is a demonstration of induction. Wind two coils with 28 or 30 gauge magnet wire. A low voltage battery (from a flashlight will do) is connected to one coil. Connect a 9 volt battery to the other coil, except with a switch to break the circuit. Put both coils around a magnetic "core" - a large nail or even a bolt will work. You will notice that each time you connect and disconnect the battery from the coil, the light bulb will...

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bulletin board
Posted by:Julianne #14852

Ok, I think I've got a good one for you. Have each student draw a picture of his or her house and cut it out. Cut out a power station and put half the houses on one side of the board. Then use bell wire (telephone wire or other thin wire will do fine) to connect each house to the next showing a simple circuit. Now cut out another power plant and use the remaining houses in two rows to show a parallel circuit. Do this by having each house link to and from a pair of parallel wires that come down from the power plant. You can see a simple diagram of this in any elementary electricity book. Students can predict what would happen if someone cut a wire in each of the models. If you are handy you can build each of these models using a 6 volt lantern battery for the power...

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Posted by:Julianne #53800

It is wonderful if the students can fool about with magnets on their own and discover what happens when they try to place the opposing poles together. The wand type magnets are good for this because their field is pretty strong and therefore easily felt. Once someone brings up the fact that if you hold the magnets one way they "attract" and if you hold them the other way they "repel", you can introduce those vocabulary words along with "pole", "north", "south" and "magnetic field". It's nice to have some metal filings to show the magnetic fields, but be careful with the stuff. If kids get it on their hands and rub their eyes or face it can cause irritation. A couple of ways to handle this - You can demonstrate the magnetic field by placing the magnet under a paper plate, then sprinkling the...

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Posted by:Amber #30622

First of all collect lots of magnetic and non magnetic items.

Then collect metal trays, tins, boxes, and other containers. these can be used for magnet sorting, testing, and storage.

My roomate made a magnet sensory box with those plastic picture frames that have cardboard box in them. she placed several magnetic and non magnetic objects in each one then each child gets a magnet and the try to pick up magnetic objects. (the box is sealed on after objects are placed inside.)

She also took a soda bottle (plastic) filled it 1/3 full of sand/dirt/water ect... then put shaved metal in it then sealed it. the children take the magnets and run it across the bottle and see what happens.

have children hold two magnets close to each other What happens? Why? have them turn one around then repeat what happens?...

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Posted by:KT #30623

For a source of magnets you may want to look for "cow" magnets. I live in a rural area and at the local feed store they sell some very strong oblong magnets about 3x1". Apparently, cows are made to swallow them and any stray pieces of barbed wire cling to them rather than harming their internal organs. Sounds amazing but true. As far as I know they are still in use and may be an inexpensive source of magnets for various projects.

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Simple circuit
Posted by:Julianne #26082

I am guessing about some of this. I have never seen this done with a potato! But I have seen a simple circuit made with a break in the wire that can then be filled with different materials to see if they will conduct electricity. I think the idea of the potato is that it is moist, therefore it should conduct the electricity. Here's how I'd go about this:

1. Get bell wire, a 6 volt lantern battery, the kind with both posts on the top of the battery. These batteries are easier to mess with while still being pretty safe. Be sure you use a flashlight bulb, not a nightlight or other household bulb.

2. Run one piece of bell wire from one terminal of the battery to your bulb's SIDE. Tape or twist it in place.

3. Attach another piece of bell wire from the...

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Electricity and Magnetism - See your electric company!
Posted by:Amy Bly #20350

Be sure to check w/your local electric company. Depending on where you live they may have free resources, teachers, lessons, etc. The Utility company in my area comes out to teach lessons in grades K - 12. The lessons and resources are always free and always of high interest and excellent quality. I teach in the Everett, WA area and feel very fortunate to have such excellent and outstanding support!

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Energy and the Environment
Posted by:Myra #14845

Talking about the environmnetal effects of electricity is a great way to expand the unit. Did you know tha schools spend more on electricity than on computers and textbooks combined. You can also talk about the fossil fuels needed to produce our electricity. You can talk about the problems associated with fossil fuel use (pollution and and the fact they are non-renewable) - bring this to a discussion of solutions (renewable energy and energy conservation). There are some great resouces offered through the Energy Star (, US Department of Energy (, The Earth Day Network (

A comprehensive program that can also raise money for your school is offered through the Earth Day Network and Earth Day New York - The Bright Light Energy Saver Fundraiser. Promotes energy efficiency, environmental awareness, and earns money for your school.

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The Electric Pickle
Posted by:John Vose #15009

Yes, I have done the Electric Pickle. There is no real risk of fire from it, but you must arrange to be sure nobody touches it because there is household electricity flowing through it.

For anyone who has never heard of the electric pickle:

1. Cut a cord from an old, broken appliance.

2. Separate and strip the ends. Attach each wire to a large nail that you have pushed through an insulator (a large cork works well). Wrap everything with electrical tape to insulate further, but not the pointy ends of the nails.

3. Attach each nail to some sort of vertical support (I use buret holders on ring stands).

4. Push the point of each nail into one end of a large, fresh pickle so that the ends of the nails are about one inch apart inside the pickle.

5. Plug the cord into a...

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Posted by:JILL #35555



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Magnet activities
Posted by:JohnV #52020

Some possiblilities, depending on grade level:

1. Experiment by trial and error to find that there are two poles on the magnet and that depending on their combinations, they either attract or repel each other.

2. Put a magnet under a sheet of paper and then sprinkle iron filings on the paper to reveal the shape of the magnetic field.

3. Use a magnet to classify other forms of matter according to whether they are magnetic (i.e. attracted to the magnet) or nonmagnetic.

4. Use wire wrapped around a nail and hooked up to a battery to make an electromagnet.

5. Find magnets and electromagnets in use. They are in speakers and electric motors for example. You can probably get students to bring in non-working appliances and such to be taken apart.

6. Teach how a magnetic compass works.

Hope this helps.


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magnet experiments
Posted by:Jenn #30624

I teach grade three in Ontario, Canada and we studied magnets earlier in the year. An experiment I did with my students was present them with a problem. (This is done once students have been introduced to the idea of north and south poles). I first gave them two toy cars, two elastics and two bar magnets. The problem they needed to work through is...How can you make one of the cars move without touching it. You must use all of the materials given to you. For that age you may need to prompt or give more direction. Students should be able to fasten the magnets on each of the cars with the elastic bands. Once they have done this, they can use the one car to push the other car away because of the like poles repelling one another. Students responded that their cars were dancing! Very effective...

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science help
Posted by:Julianne #33681

For magnets I start by having students handle two magnets to feel the attraction and repulsion. The wand magnets work well for this because they are strong. As a follow-up I have bags of small items prepared. In each baggy are about 20 items. This can be a whole group activity or a center. Either way stress that each object should be tested individually, don't just sweep the magnet in the bag to see what "sticks". I make sure there are a few surprises in the bags, like an aluminum washer, a coin, a plastic toy that has a magnet inside, etc. This way students will guess wrong once in a while and must then try to explain why something broke the rules. A final fun activity is to make a game. To make a fishing game, make a fishing pole of an unsharpened pencil, string and a small magnet....

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ANother option
Posted by:Heidi #63107

I still remember doing the needle compasss activity when I was a grade 4 student! And it helps me know which way is north in the city when I picture how the school sits and how the needle pointed. We magnatized the needle by rubbing the magnet across it alway stroking away from us, never back & forth. Then we ties thread to the middle of the needle and let the needle suspend. It took time for it to hang still but it worked! It pointed North. The teacher did it as a demonstration, the students didn't each try it.

My grade four class did magnatize nails though, learning to stroke the magnet always away from them. They had great fun dropping and banging the nail to "de-magnatize" it so the next kid in the group could try! We also suspended a bar magnet by string and...

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discovering with magnets
Posted by:cnm #90756

Something my first graders really loved was getting a magnet and walking around the classroom--discovering what was magnetic and what was not. They can keep a "Magnetic Journal" at a magnet center for the class of the interesting items they find in their classroom that the magnet might cling to (the pencil sharpner, filing cabnet, etc.) The only thing--make sure you have the discussion about not toughing the magnet to the computer!

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