Two posts ago I shared about a new science curricula called “Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding” that I have been using with my 2nd grader. Here’s a peek at how he learned about magnetism which is part of this program’s Nature of Matter thread.
As background, we began our lessons on the Nature of Matter thread. We went through lessons on organising things (phases of matter, distinguishing materials, living vs. non living things and later on animals vs. plants), focusing on air (as the phase of matter that children take for granted more than others) and the particulate nature of matter (can be taken apart into smaller things). Concurrently, we began studies within the Earth and Space thread and studied gravity (particularly the Earth’s), day and night in relation to the Earth’s rotation, reading/drawing maps, and directions (north/south/east/west). Then, it was time to study magnetism back in the Nature of Matter thread.
So, one day, we took out as much magnetic things we could think of (materials made of steel which is mostly iron) and tried them out with our different magnets. We also observed different magnet strengths as we tried out different magnets we had at home. Of course, we also tested materials that we thought were not magnetic. Having learned from our Distinguising Materials lesson that materials around us can be made of wood, plastic, rubber, cloth, metal, etc, my son was able to make the connection that magnetism has something to do with the material something is made of. He also discovered that magnetism flows through magnetic things like paper clips and thumbtacks.
He tinkered with these as I introduced the concept of magnetic poles. He was quite familiar with the concept of “pushing” and “pulling” having spent regular time playing with his train set with magnetic box cars. So, it was easy for him to understand that the differing poles of the magnet (north and south) attract and same poles repel.
Then, we used iron filings to see what a magnetic field is. How the attraction is strongest where the poles are and slowly diminish outwards away from the poles. This gave me a chance to introduce the idea that the Earth itself is magnetic and that there is a north and south pole. This we related to our lessons on direction and how a compass works.
Finally, we read some books with lots of illustrations on exactly the things we observed.