Magnets in Nature

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SWBAT describe natural occurrences of magnets including magnetic rocks and the Aurora Borealis.

Big Idea

Magnets are not just on refrigerators! They can be found in nature and are the cause of beautiful auroras!

Teacher Preparation

In this lesson, students will learn from media (videos and text) about natural magnetic rocks and auroras. This lesson comes after students have some background knowledge about magnets, common magnetic materials, and the polarity of magnets. The purpose of this lesson is to expand student's knowledge from magnets just being objects that attract and repel certain metals and each other to a natural phenomenon. It is important that students understand the broader view of magnets because it intertwines with other areas of the curriculum, including geology (magnetic rocks) and weather (auroras and wind patterns) in later grades. 

I teach the Essential Standards and this lesson aligns to 1.P.1.2, 'Explain how some forces (pushes and pulls) can be used to make things move without touching them, such as magnets.' Click here to listen to my Explanation of Essential Standards and Essential Question.

For more background information, watch this video to learn about auroras and read this quick information about magnetic rocks. 


*Science Journals & Pencils

*Internet & Projector

Warm up

5 minutes

To begin this lesson, we review the KWL (Know/Want to Know/Learned) chart we created at the beginning of this unit. Reviewing the KWL chart reviews new background knowledge and ties in to Science and Engineering Practice 1, Asking Questions and Defining Problems', by encouraging students to ask scientific questions. I say,

"In this lesson, we are focusing on answering a very specific question about magnets. Today, we are going to answer the question, 'Where can you find magnets in nature?' Does anyone have any ideas about that before we begin?"

I want to know what my students already know so that I can expand their knowledge, so I give them a few minutes to tell me. Then we are ready for the activity for today!


30 minutes

To start the activity today, I say,

"As we learn about different natural magnets today, take notes in your journal. What kinds of things might scientists write down?"

We have spent a lot of time this year developing scientific journaling, so my students are ready to label diagrams and take simple notes fairly independently as we learn from media. This supports Science and Engineering Practice 4 as they recording information from media to describe patterns in the natural world.

I first show this website and scroll to the section labeled "Earth the Magnet". I say to my students,

"We are going to use the internet and some scientific texts today to try to answer our question. I found this information to get us started".

I read that section to my students and I explain it a bit more to them so that they understand that there are natural magnetic rocks and also auroras that are created by magnetic fields --so of course we need to know more about those! 

Then I show this short (2 minute) video that shows lots of different auroras. I want my students to just watch it before I explain it so that they see how magnificent it is! After the video, I show this picture of a Bar Magnetic Field. I review how a bar magnet's magnetic field extends beyond the magnet, which is why it can attract or repel objects without touching them, and I make the connection to the Earth's magnetic field. Then, we move along to the magnetic rocks which are a bit easier to explain to first graders!

My students have already learned about rocks and minerals, so I say,

"When we learned about rocks and minerals, we talked about properties of minerals like streak and color. Another property that minerals can have is magnetism. Magnetite is a magnetic mineral which is in a lot of rocks and causes them to have a magnetic property. We are going to look at a great website for kids to learn more about this mineral called 'Mineralogy 4 Kids".

I go to the website and I teach my students how to navigate the website as I go, because I know lots of my students are really interested in rocks and minerals and this website has a great identification tool as well! I click on 'Mineral Properties-Assorted Properties' to get to the information about magnetism. Then I show two specific examples of rocks that are magnetic: hematite and lodestode (click for the direct links!). I show lots of pictures on these pages to reinforce that the minerals can come in lots of forms within different rocks, but the property of magnetism is still evident.

I ask for two or three volunteers to come up and of course I have some magnetic hematite to show the class and the volunteers check it out for us. Then we pass it around and test it with a few objects like paperclips and the board to see that it is actually magnetic rock.

Then I say,

"So, now that we know a bit more about auroras and magnetic rocks, it's time to wrap up for the day!"

Wrap Up

10 minutes

For the wrap up today, I say,

"Turn to a partner and explain to them either the auroras or the magnetic rocks and how they work. This can be tricky, so help each other and use your notes!"

This is a great time for me to listen in and see if my students understood enough of this very complicated scientific content to make sense of it. The key understanding is that magnets can create push and pull forces without contact, so I listen for that as well. Then I say,

"Our question that we started with for today was 'Where can you find magnets in nature?' Is the answer 'In all rocks?' No! Who can give a scientific answer using your notes to help you?"

I am very cautious that my first graders do not leave a lesson with misunderstandings or sweeping statements like 'ALL rocks are magnetic'--so I address this with them and make sure they know how to communicate it correctly. Discussing the scientific content we have learned today and communicating using our recorded data and information supports Science and Engineering Practice 8, 'Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information'.