Magnetism is such a fun topic to experiment with. This lesson will provide some simple experiments and activities to introduce your students to the wonderful world of magnets.
Capture the Clips
Fill a plastic tub half full of sand. Mix in lots of metal paper clips. Have several magnetic wands near the tub and allow the children to wave the wands across the sand to pick up the paper clips. Take the captured clips off the wand and place then in a small container. Mix up the sand a bit and let them try again. You may tape a sign onto the tub listing how many clips are hidden in the sand and challenge students to find all of the clips.
Have a magnet and a basket of objects, some of which are magnetic and some that are not. Divide a piece of cardboard into two columns, and write "yes" on one column and "no" on the other. Have a student come up, pull an object out of the basket, and predict if it will stick to the magnet. The student can then test it and place it in the appropriate column. You can also just make a two columns on a chalkboard or a piece of chart paper and list the items that are magnetic and those that are not.
Fill a glass jar with water, place a paper clip in it, and screw on the lid. Have students make the paper clip dance but moving a magnet up and down the side of the jar. The paper clip moves because the magnetic force passes through the water. Have the students experiment with how far away from the jar they can hold the magnet and still make the paper clip move.
Graphing Magnet Strength
Gather a variety of magnets (bar, horseshoe, donut, round, etc.) and a box of paper clips. Make a graph on chart paper with a list of the types of magnets you have across the bottom and numbers up the side. Place the paper clips in a large box or tub. Have students choose one of the magnets and place it into the box of paper clips. Carefully lift the magnet out of the box and count the number of paper clips that were collected. Mark the graph in the appropriate column. Repeat with the remaining magnets. Study the graph when you are finished. Which magnet picked up the most paper clips? Which magnet picked up the least number of paper clips? Did any magnets pick up the same number? What do you think caused some magnets to pick up more paper clips?
Bend a wire hanger into a diamond shape so the bottom becomes a point. Then, bend the hanger in half to make a stand. Tape the bottom of the stand to the table. Tie one end of a string through a donut shaped magnet and the other end to the top of the hanger stand. It may be necessary to bend the top of the hanger to keep the string in place. Share the stand with the students and allow them access to a bar magnet. Let them discover how to use the bar magnet to make the donut magnet swing back and forth without touching it. Use the activity to teach about the north and south ends of the magnet, and how the opposite ends attract each other.
For another fun lesson on magnets, read "Cool Science Experiments: A Floating Direction Finder".