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Magic or magnetic?

Topic: 3E Magnets and springs

Everyone's jealous of wizards like Harry Potter. The Muggle Times newspaper prints a story suggesting that some wizards' tricks are not magic at all, but rely on hidden magnets. Pupils are asked to if they can duplicate a magic trick using magnets. There is then a literacy activity to investigate whether it's possible to play the broomstick riding game Quidditch with the force of magnets.

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magic or magnetic activity

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magic or magnetic activity teachers notes


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· To make careful observations

By devising a magic trick where you can pick up paperclips at a distance, pupils will observe which materials are/are not attracted to a magnet

· To classify a range of materials, including metals eg gold, copper, aluminium, as magnetic or non-magnetic

By completing arguments about why magnets could not support a person on a wooden broomstick

· That magnets can repel as well as attract

By devising a magic trick to push away an object with an invisible force

Curriculum Link

QCA 3E: magnets and springs

· to make and test predictions about whether materials are magnetic or not
· to make careful observations
· that magnets attract some metals but not others and that other materials are not attracted to magnets
· to use results to draw conclusions, indicating whether they were right in their prediction about which materials were magnetic

Running the Activity

The first activity
· Display page 1 through a projector or as an OHT. Read through the page to set pupils the challenge: is this wizard trick magic, or just magnets?
· Ask pupils how they could answer this question. Some will suggest trying to replicate the trick using magnets and a selection of objects.
· Get them to experiment with trick 1 using a magnet and a set of magnetic and non-magnetic materials, like paperclips, metal screws, sewing pins, metal coins, marbles, pebbles, small scraps of paper.
· Get them to experiment with trick 2 using a magnet and a cut out of the ‘frog' on page 2. This can be wrapped around a magnet to disguise the magnet's presence (we are imagining that the wizard school have made their classroom frogs swallow magnets)
· If there is no time for practical work, you can easily skip to activity 2.
· Ask some pupils to demonstrate their tricks and explain how they work.
· Discuss which items are affected by the magnets - what do they have in common?

The second activity
· Display and read through page 3. A reader suggests the game of Quidditch is not magic, but also works on magnets.
· Explain the task, which is about applying the ideas met in activity 1: to construct a reply to this letter arguing why magnets could not make broomsticks fly.
· Get pupils to complete the sentences to form a structured argument in terms of magnetic properties

Possible extension activity
Get pupils to predict answers to some of the following questions, and then experiment to test their ideas:
· What is the maximum distance that a paperclip can be attracted or a frog repelled?
· Which part(s) of the magnet exert the strongest force?
· Do different magnets have different strengths?
· Does putting two or more magnets together increase their strength?

Web Links

frogs and magnets
How real scientists have levitated frogs using spinning magnets - including a video of the effect

Simon Singh
A review of a book about the Science of Harry Potter.

Harry Potter news
The Harry Potter automatic news aggregator

Harry Potter information

Harry Potter info site - loads of links from this page

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?


magic or magnetic Oct 24th, 2012     1 Star 2 Star 3 Star 4 Star

Reviewer: Carolyn Hall
My children really enjoyed working on this activity and it was nice to see them working together to tackle the problem - they all came up with slightly different ideas but the way they presented the end task was lovely. I really liked this idea.