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Magnets: what sticks to them?

Students use magnets to try and pick up various materials. Can be used as a free experimentation activity.
Science content (2016 curriculum): 
Physics: Motion and Forces, Newton’s Laws, Gravity (K, 2, 6)
  • magnets, one per student
  • materials to test, some metal, some of those containing iron. e.g. iron nail, brass screw, aluminum foil, paper clip, wood, coin, pipe cleaner, eraser, paper, copper item e.g. cookie cutter

Students record which materials are attracted to a magnet and which are not, and try to find any patterns in their observations.

Only iron (steel contains iron), also nickel and cobalt, are attracted to magnets.
With older students, maybe discuss how the electrons inside the atoms are aligned when something is magnetic.
Some rocks are naturally magnetic.


We found that some pennies were attracted to the magnet and some were not. An interesting extension would be to collect many pennies, and look for a correlation between the year the penny was made and whether they are attracted to a magnet, to predict what metals are in each year.

Grades taught: 
Gr K
Gr 1
Gr 2
Donna Greening
Lisa Shideler
Mari Matsuo
Monika Pilat
Stephanie Monaghan
Teaching site: 
Fraser Elementary
General Gordon Elementary
Nelson Elementary
After School Program at Elementary schools in New York City