Grade 5 Physics: Magnets

This was the section of our physics block I was most uncertain about. I did not have a clear plan for this one. We did not spend much time in her early years exploring magnets, so my plan was to play and wing it. I did prepare however by going over the material on magnets and magnetic fields on If you are just joining me on this post, this is one of what will be 5 blog posts. The plan (and links to the other posts) for our Grade 5 Physics block was:

Introduce Energy, Force, and Momentum2 days
Simple Machines3 days
Waves and Sound2 days
Light2 days
Magnets2 days
Electricity2 days

For our work with magnets, I laid the following supplies on the table:

  • 2 bar magnets
  • 2 round magnets
  • A collection of small nut
  • A collection of paper clips
  • Iron filings
  • A piece of clear thick plastic

She played for several minutes, around 15 to 20, before we began to talk about what she was noticing. We use ‘I notice… and I wonder…’ a lot in our math, and it is also written into my math curricula. When doing math we usually take turns giving our observations, but in this exercise I just listened to her observations, and then gave names to them or concepts. Because we had not done much magnet work, and there were some basic concepts that came from her play. During our conversations about her observations, we discovered or discussed the following concepts:

repellingmagnetic force magnetic field

She noticed 

  • Two of the ends of each of the magnets stuck together. (Different poles attract.)
  • If one of the ends is switched, the magnets push against each other. (Like poles repel.)
  • The force of the magnet decreases the further away it is from an object. 
  • Magnets are attracted to some objects (Conductors, mostly metal) but not others.
  • The magnetic force transfers through metal objects (paper clips/nuts) causing the object to attract other objects (other paperclips/nuts).

At this point, I pulled out the iron filings and the clear plastic piece. We placed the plastic on top of a couple of blocks to lift it from the table. Then we sprinkled some filings on the plastic. Using the magnet under the plastic, we moved it to see what it did to the filings. We played in this way for several minutes.

I then cleared the filings, and placed two of the magnets side by side under the plastic. We then sprinkled the filings evenly onto the plastic. This allowed us to observe the magnetic field. I picked the plastic off of the magnets and placed it on top of a white sheet of paper so we could see the contrast. This went into her notebook along with a narration of the days activities the following day.

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