ALEX Lesson Plan


Magnificent Magnets

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  This lesson provided by:  
Author:Kathy Perkins
System: Tuscaloosa City
School: Tuscaloosa City Board Of Education
The event this resource created for:ASTA
  General Lesson Information  
Lesson Plan ID: 34665


Magnificent Magnets


Magnets are fun to play with, but how can we use magnets to improve our lives?  In this lesson, students explore magnets to determine their strength, polarity, and how they attract and repel each other.  Then they use the engineering design process to create inventions that use magnets to accomplish a task.

This lesson results from a collaboration between the Alabama State Department of Education and ASTA.

 Associated Standards and Objectives 
Content Standard(s):
SC2015 (2015)
Grade: 3
4 ) Apply scientific ideas about magnets to solve a problem through an engineering design project (e.g., constructing a latch to keep a door shut, creating a device to keep two moving objects from touching each other such as a maglev system).*

NAEP Framework
NAEP Statement::
P4.5: Magnets can repel or attract other magnets. They can also attract certain nonmagnetic objects at a distance.

Unpacked Content
Scientific And Engineering Practices:
Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
Disciplinary Core Idea: Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions
Evidence Of Student Attainment:
  • Identify and describe a simple design problem that can be solved by applying a scientific understanding of the forces between interacting magnets.
  • Identify and describe the scientific ideas necessary for solving the problem.
  • Identify and describe the criteria for a successful solution to the problem.
  • Identify and describe the constraints (limits) for solving the problem.
Teacher Vocabulary:
  • Magnet
  • Properties
  • Engineering Design Process (Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create, Improve)
  • Attract
  • Repel
  • Forces
Students know:
  • Magnetic forces between a pair of objects do not require that the objects be in contact with each other.
  • The sizes of the forces in a magnetic situation depend on the properties of the objects, the distances apart, and their orientation relative to each other.
Students are able to:
  • Define a problem that can be solved with magnets.
  • Apply scientific ideas about magnets.
  • Solve a problem with scientific ideas about magnets through an engineering design project.
Students understand that:
  • Scientific discoveries about the natural world, such as magnets, can often lead to new and improved technologies, which are developed through the engineering design process.
AMSTI Resources:
AMSTI Module:
Forces and Investigations

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
SCI.AAS.3.4- Apply scientific ideas about magnets to solve a problem. (e.g., using a magnet to pick up an object, using a magnet to push or pull an object)

Local/National Standards:


Primary Learning Objective(s):

Students will:

  • compare the relative strength of magnets by counting the number of paper clips different magnets attract.
  • experiment to find the distances at which different magnets can attract objects and repel other magnets.
  • design and build a device that uses the properties of magnets to accomplish a task.

Additional Learning Objective(s):

 Preparation Information 

Total Duration:

91 to 120 Minutes

Materials and Resources:

  • 3 - 4 ring magnets
  • assorted magnets (these can be different shapes and strengths, but there should be at least one magnet for each student in the class)
  • chart paper / marker or interactive whiteboard for recording student information
  • thread
  • 1 - 2 boxes paper clips
  • pencils
  • science notebooks and/or copies "The Mystery of the Floating Magnets" and "Solving a Problem With the Engineering Design Process" in the attachment section for each student. You may choose for students to record their observations on the handouts and glue these in their notebooks, or you can have students take notes directly in their notebooks. 
  • Rubrics for each student.
  • Optional: Magnets or poster listing the steps in the engineering design process.  Magnets listing the steps can be found at
  • Optional: Materials cost sheet from STEM Challenge Freebie on Teachers Pay Teachers.  Page 6 of this packet provides a materials list and budget that you may use if you want to add an additional constraint to the engineering challenge.

Materials for student inventions (use what you have available in your classroom):

  • craft sticks 
  • tape
  • paper
  • cardboard
  • cotton balls
  • string or yarn
  • paper or Styrofoam cups
  • fuzzy sticks
  • paper clips
  • clothes pins
  • scissors
  • glue
  • markers
  • brass brads
  • any linking building materials you have available (Legos, K-nex, linking cubs, etc.)

Technology Resources Needed:

Computer with projector to show the following online videos:


Magnets can be naturally occurring or manmade.  Magnetism is strongest at the poles of a magnet, which are determined by their attraction to the North and South Poles of the earth.  Opposite poles attract and like poles repel.  Simple background information for students and teachers can be found in these YouTube videos:

What is a Magnetic Field?

Magnetism for Kids

Magnets and Magnetism


Engage (10 - 15 minutes):

  1. Show students four ring magnets on a pencil with opposite poles together so the magnets stick together.  Then flip the magnets so like poles are together and the magnets seem to defy gravity.
  2. Give students "The Mystery of the Floating Magnets" handout or direct students to take notes in their science journals to describe what happened and why they think it happened.  Have partners discuss their thoughts.  As students discuss the magnets, circulate to informally assess students’ previous knowledge about magnets.  Have partners share their ideas with the class and add terms to a vocabulary chart as needed (poles, attract, repel, etc.)


Explore (15 - 20 minutes):

Have students work with a partner to explore magnets.  Give each set of partners two magnets, 20 - 30 paper clips, and a piece of thread.  (Have additional paper clips available as needed.)  Challenge partners to figure out how to do the following:

  • Use one magnet to move the other magnet without touching it. 
  • Figure out which magnet is stronger.  (Have students count the maximum number of paper clips each magnet can pick up and record this information in their notebooks as evidence.  You may also want students to graph this information.)
  • Make a paper clip jump off the table without touching it.
  • Make a paper clip or magnet defy gravity.  (Let students struggle to figure this out for themselves, but if they need a hint, show “Defying Gravity” video.)

As students explore the magnets, have them fill in the chart at the bottom of the "The Mystery of the Floating Magnets" handout or create a chart of their own in their notebooks. 

How Magnets Work




New Things I Learned About Magnets

Important Vocabulary

Remind students to explain their findings using terms such as poles, attract, repel, and force. Encourage students to record new terms and definitions from the class vocabulary chart.

Have students work in groups of 2-4 to brainstorm a list of ways magnets are used in our daily lives.  (Use chart at the bottom of the handout or have students create their own charts in their notebooks.)



Example: Need to hold pictures on refrigerator

Refrigerator magnets





Ask probing questions:

  • Other than holding things on the refrigerator, how can the attracting force of magnets be used?
  • How can the repelling force be used?
  • How are the problems and solutions related?
  • What are other ways the problems could be solved?
  • After the brainstorming, have each group select an idea they think is unique from the other groups and write their idea on the class chart.


Explain (20 – 30 minutes):

  1. Watch “Magnetism for Kids” video or draw diagram showing what happens when different poles of the magnet are placed next to each other.  Discuss evidence of polarity students encountered in their explorations.
  2. Watch video clips about uses of magnets (National Geographic “Magnets as Brakes” video and How Stuff Works “How Maglev Trains Work” video).  Add uses of magnets to class chart.  You may also choose to watch the YouTube video “How to Create Your Own Levitation Device.”  (You can try to get students to make their own levitation device, but as he explains in the video, it is harder than it looks.  Magnets must be very strong and the placement must be exact for this device to work.)
  3. Distribute "Using the Engineering Design Process" handout.  
    Please note that the red italics print is for teacher information only; this text should be deleted before copying the handout for students.  
  4. Begin brainstorming a list of problems that could be solved by holding things together or keeping them separated with the whole class. This is the first step in the engineering design process.  Ask, “What is the problem?”  Your constraints are that you must use magnets and classroom materials to solve the problem.  You may want to start with examples already present in the classroom, such as magnets holding classroom doors shut or holding papers onto a filing cabinet. Once students have the idea, have them continue brainstorming to generate ideas for their inventions. 
  5. Explain the Engineering Design Process by discussing the five steps on the handout. Depending on the students' familiarity with this process, students may be ready to complete the process on their own, or you may need to walk them through each step.


Elaborate (20 – 25 minutes): Students will create an invention that uses magnets to solve one of their brainstormed problems.

  1. Introduce the materials available to construct their devices.  You may choose to download and use the list from the STEM Challenge Freebie on TPT, or you can make your own list on the board.  For an additional challenge, you can assign "prices" to each material and give students a budget for purchasing their materials.  This would be an additional constraint to be addressed in the first step of the Engineering Design Process.
  2. After the students have identified a problem and have had some time to explore the materials, they will brainstorm possible solutions and pick the best one.  Some students may need help with strategies coming to a group decision (voting, rock-paper-scissors, etc.).
  3. The next step is the planning phase.  Have students sketch ideas in their science notebooks to decide what materials will be needed and how the magnets will be used within their invention.
  4. Groups will collect materials based on their plan and build their devices.  Then they will test to see if the device works as planned.
  5. If the device does not work, students will need to revise their designs to try an alternate solution.  If the device does work as planned, students may try to improve their design by increasing the size or scope of their invention.

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Assessment Strategies

Evaluate: Have groups share their inventions with the class.  Each group should tell the problem their invention will solve, how they used the magnets to accomplish this task, and how they might improve their design in the future.  Use the rubric for evaluating the students' teamwork, structure design, and evidence of thought in their journal entries.


Accelerate and Extend: Have students independently view and build a magnet detector using the Design Squad materials on PBS Learning Media.

Students may also explore how magnetic attraction can affect the course of a moving object by completing the Design Squad Mission Solar System Challenge. In addition to the materials listed in the materials section, students will need steel balls (ball bearings work well) and a 1-foot section of rope or clothesline.


Intervention: Provide suggestions for students who need help coming up with ideas for problems that can be solved using magnets and/or possible inventions.  Some examples are listed below:

  • picking up an object - Create a device that can separate plastic and metal paper clips.
  • moving an object - Make a game than requires a magnet to move the pieces.
  • holding an object in place - Build a house with a door and use magnets to hold the door closed.
  • levitating an object - Create a picture frame that can keep a small picture levitating in the frame without touching the sides.
  • keeping two objects from touching - Design a device to keep two moving objects from touching each other or a maglev train.

View the Special Education resources for instructional guidance in providing modifications and adaptations for students with significant cognitive disabilities who qualify for the Alabama Alternate Assessment.