Flying Paperclips – Fun with Magnets

paperclips and magnets homeschool science lab

To the youngest kids, magnets seem like magic. To older kids, they are fascinating. Kids of all age love fun with magnets, and in this easy-to-do homeschool science lab, kids can defy gravity with the help of some strong magnets. You’re sure to have just about everything for this lab on hand, and if you do need to get magnets, keep them out of reach of little hands when not in use and bring them out for more magnet fun again and again.

In this lab, kids explore the magnet attraction while performing what seems like magic. This is real, tangible evidence of magnetic force, and you should hear plenty of oohs and ahhs. Better yet, this lab is easily scaled for a big group, and the materials are commonplace enough that every child can try it themselves.

The only real issue with this fun with magnets lab is that little fingers may have trouble with some of the fine motor work, with tying knots with the thread or getting it set up properly. Of course, parents should watch that the kids don’t eat the magnets.

Materials:

STRONG Bar Magnets (not neodymium) – 1 per student
Ring magnets
Water
Dixie cups – 1 per student
2 paperclips per student
Small squares of card stock – about 5 cm x 5 cm (or so)
Aluminum foil squares (about same size as card stock)
Thread
Scissors
Tape
Pennies – one per student
Bits and pieces of thin materials to pass between the magnet and the paperclip, i.e. fabric, paper, plastic wrap

In Advance (if working with a group)

Put about 30 cm of thread, two paperclips, a small square of card stock, a small piece of aluminum foil into each cup ready for each student.
Have plenty of tape on the tables.

Process

Hold up a magnet – ask the kids what it is. They should call out “magnet”.

  1. Ask who can tell what a magnet is. Gather ideas.
  2. Ask who can tell where magnets come from. Gather ideas (some naturally occurring minerals are magnetic, like lodestone, but most are minerals that are magnetized – like iron, nickel, cobalt.)
  3. Ask what does magnetized mean? (when something is magnetized, the electrons zipping around inside the atoms that make up the rock/magnet are realigned so that they’re all flowing in one direction)
  4. Tell the kids that all magnetic objects create a magnetic field, an area around the object that has a change in energy.

Tell the kids they’re going to have some fun with magnets and do some magic. Hand out the cups with a paperclip and thread inside. Have tape on the table. See the images below to see how to set it up.

  1. Instruct the kids to put the cup upside down on the table and to tape the magnet to the top of the cup so that the magnet’s north pole is hanging over the cup.
  2. The kids should then tie the thread to one end of the paperclip and stick the paperclip to the magnet so that the thread is hanging down.
  3. Gently pull on the thread until it is tight, then tape it to the table.
  4. Gently pull the thread until the paperclip is no longer touching the magnet but is still attracted to the magnet. There should be a small space between the paperclip and the magnet.

Explain to the kids that next, they’re going to test the magnetic field. Some materials will react with the magnetic field causing it to break or bend, while with other materials, the magnetic field will pass through it.

  1. Ask the kids for a hypothesis on whether or not the card stock will interrupt the magnetic field and cause the paperclip to drop (it will not). Instruct the kids to gently pass the card stock between the suspended paperclip and the magnet. Have them try. (see image 5 below)
  2. Ask the kids if the bit of aluminum will disturb the magnetic field and cause the paperclip to drop – it will not. They should try.
  3. Ask the kids if the paperclip will disturb the suspended paperclip – yes, it should cause the paperclip to drop. Ask them why? (because the paperclip is made with iron which is a naturally forming magnetic mineral). Try it with the penny.

Fun with Magnets Extensions:

  1. Give the kids some time to play with the paperclips and other goodies. This is a terrific homeschool science lab for experimentation!
  2. Encourage them to reverse the magnet (so south pole is hanging over the cup) and see what happens.
  3. Let them try this with the ring magnet. Encourage them to use the rest of the time coming up with their own suggestions. 

For even more physics fun, check out this thermodynamics lab that’s ideal for little hands, or this classic that uses milk to explore surface tension.

 

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