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Name: Denise
Status: student
Age: N/A
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Question:
What is the BIG IDEA in SCIENCE that would be most appropriate to link a unit on magnets with kindergarten students?



Replies:
Denise,

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 refrigerator doors.

DR. KENNETH MELLENDORF
PHYSICS PROFESSOR
ILLINOIS CENTRAL COLLEGE


Denise --

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 field.

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 kindergartners, though.

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 determining magnetism.

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.

Burr Zimmerman



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