Magnetism "Big Idea"
What is the BIG IDEA in SCIENCE that would be most
appropriate to link a unit on magnets with kindergarten students?
I cannot say for sure, but I can conceive of a reason I might
consider reasonable. Due to the great increase in the depth and
breadth of technology in past years, science at the level of
mechanics and electromagnetism is becoming more necessary.
Magnetism is such a topic to which young students can relate:
all have played with magnetic letters and have seen magnets on
refrigerator doors. If presented in this context from a point
of view that does not bring mathematics into the picture,
students can achieve an interest in science before equations
and topics they have never contemplated drive them away. Many
kindergarten students have wondered why the magnets stick to the
DR. KENNETH MELLENDORF
ILLINOIS CENTRAL COLLEGE
I commend you on your effort.
The Big Ideas at the kindergarten level would be that magnets
interact through a distance. We call that region of influence a
Perhaps show the shape of the field with iron filings sprinkled on
a piece of paper that has a magnet beneath it.
Likes repel, unlikes attract.
Attraction does not mean both objects are magnets. Some materials
(like paper clips) interact with magnets even though they themselves
are not magnets.
Some materials do not react to magnets.
A magnetic compass to show that Earth has a magnetic field.
I hope this gives you a start!
--Nathan A. Unterman
I am not sure exactly what you mean by 'big idea', but the details and inner
workings of magnetism are still a subject of research and debate. There are
many mysteries of how magnetism works, magnetic materials, and new uses for
magnets. I think that level of info might not be appropriate for
For kindergartners, I would guess that you can show that some materials are
magnetic and some are not. And, it is not always obvious which is which. For
instance, plain rubber is not magnetic, but rubber refrigerator magnets are
magnetic, and if you just look at them or feel them, there is not a whole lot
different. Perhaps you could get some common materials -- like a shiny
metallic magnet, some shiny aluminum, a hockey puck (black dense rubber),
and a refrigerator magnet -- and ask the kids to predict which would be
magnetic. This could help dispel misconceptions about appearance or density
I 'a not sure if this would be too much for kindergartners, but you might
also show that magnets have 'poles' -- in other words they can either repel
or attract. Using a pair of standard bar or plate magnets, you can show they
attract when oriented in one direction, or repel when oriented another. I am
not sure if a scientific explanation of 'why' this is would be appropriate,
but perhaps it would be enough to say that magnets have two sides, called
North and South, and that North repels North, and South repels South, but
North attracts South.
To give more context, you can then explain that magnets are sometimes found
naturally in the ground (but probably there are not any in the playground),
and very strong magnets can be made by people too. Magnets are used in many
places, including in cars, computers, cell phones, and more. You may even
have magnets on your furniture (to hold doors closed). Magnets are very
useful in many ways.
I hope this helps. If I misunderstood what you are looking for (especially
the 'big idea' part), please respond back and I will try to help more.
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Update: June 2012