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Floating Magnets

Summary

Grade Range
3rd
Group Size
2 students
Active Time
30 minutes
Total Time
30 minutes
Area of Science
Physics
Key Concepts
Forces, magnetism
Credits
Ben Finio, PhD, Science Buddies
Magnetic rings slide onto an upright marker and do not touch each other

Overview

Do your students think making things float in mid-air is a magic trick? Show them how you can do it with science! In this lesson plan they will learn about interactions between magnets and figure out how to make them float.

Learning Objectives

NGSS Alignment

This lesson helps students prepare for these Next Generation Science Standards Performance Expectations:
This lesson focuses on these aspects of NGSS Three Dimensional Learning:

Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Science & Engineering Practices Asking Questions and Defining Problems. Ask questions that can be investigated based on patterns such as cause and effect relationships.
Disciplinary Core Ideas PS2.B: Types of Interactions. Electric and magnetic forces between a pair of objects do not require that the objects be in contact. The sizes of the forces in each situation depend on the properties of the objects and their distances apart and, for forces between two magnets, on their orientation relative to each other.
Crosscutting Concepts Cause and Effect. Cause and effect relationships are routinely identified, tested, and used to explain change.

Materials

A marker, six magnetic rings, two bar magnets, and a ball of putty

For each group of students:

For teacher demonstration:

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Background Information for Teachers

This section contains a quick review for teachers of the science and concepts covered in this lesson.

Your students may already be familiar with magnets. You may have some magnets in your classroom, used to hold up artwork or other papers against a metallic surface. However, they may not know that magnets have two opposite poles, which we refer to as north and south. Similar or "like" poles will repel each other (push each other away). Opposite or "unlike" poles will attract each other (pull towards each other) as shown in Figure 1.

Four sets of bar magnets illustrate the attraction between opposite poles and repulsion of similar poles
Figure 1. Diagram showing how magnets can attract and repel each other depending on the orientation of their poles. The north and south poles are labeled "N" and "S" respectively.

Magnets can push and pull on each other even when they are not touching. You can notice this simply by placing two bar magnets flat on a table in a straight line with each other, and slowly sliding one towards the other. Depending on which way the poles are facing, when the magnets get close together, they will either slide apart or snap together (and if the magnets are not perfectly lined up, they might spin instead of moving straight). You can use this fact to make multiple magnets "float" in mid-air by setting them up so like poles always face each other, as shown in Figure 2.

Photo and diagram of magnetic rings sliding onto an upright marker and avoid touching each other
Figure 2. Floating magnets, set up with their poles facing in alternating directions so they repel each other.

Note: Your students may already be familiar with refrigerator magnets, which will stick to some metallic surfaces (filing cabinets, refrigerators, some whiteboards, etc.). However, some refrigerator magnets (the flexible kind) do not behave like the magnets you will use in this project. They have a series of very tiny alternating magnetic poles, instead of one big north pole and one big south pole. This type of magnet will not work for this project.

Prep Work (2 minutes)

Engage (5 minutes)

Explore (20 minutes)

Reflect (5 minutes)

Assess

Make Career Connections

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