Ways to Teach… Magnetism and Magnetic Fields

Excitement and a jam-packed episode this week as we tackle Ways to Teach… magnetism! We start with some feedback from last episode about extended writing in physics. Thanks to William Pope for getting in touch. See the links section below for couple of free lesson resources to help your students become better written communicators in physics… I could do with some myself.

Years of hacking away at computers trying to get ms-2 or 1.6 x 10-19 have taken their toll on Thomas(to type these, I had to open Word, type them, undo the automatic capitalisation of he ‘m’ and then copy-paste into Chrome – sigh). He is therefore happy to have had an early Christmas present of AutoHotkey, a scripting tool for Windows that allows you to map these units and constants to a hotkey, no matter which programme you are typing in. The link is in your fridge… nah, it’s in the Links section below.

Thomas and Robin have a couple of goes at sharing the ideas our dear listener has given us about teaching about magnetic fields and magnetism. We were particularly focused on Key Stage 3 – and magnetism rather than electromagnetism which we will cover later. So if you are one of our heroes – the teachers who wouldn’t naturally identify as a physics teacher – then we hope this episode gives you a few ideas.

Area or region? It’s a minor quibble, but we talk about the relative merits of both descriptions. The classic way of showing magnetic fields – iron filings scattered on a piece of paper held over a magnet – is fine but can lead to an idea that the field is somehow limited to 2 dimensions (hence Robin’s issues with the word ‘area’). We were delighted therefore to hear about the use of acetate or Perspex sheets to show the field. In theory at least you could stack one over another and show the field is in the vertical direction as well as the horizontal. Thomas makes the good point that stacking up the iron filings over the poles of the magnet can show the iron filings building in the vertical dimension.

Mark Whalley joins us to point out that you might have a magnetometer on your phone. Installing PhyPhox opens up the various sensors on your phone which may, depending on your model, include a magnetometer. Mark points out that sitting on a swing with your phone safely in your pocket can pick up the variation in the Earth’s magnetic field strength as the phone’s orientation changes.

And finally… with Christmas just round the corner, what do you get for that special someone in your life. Perfume and socks are so cliché, so scroll up and click on the ‘Shop’ link. Soon Granny will be the envy of the social club in her (TP)2 T-shirt. Why not really make her day and get her a vacuum cannon?


David Cotton’s O-Level experiment for visualising field lines.

The background of the episode image thanks to Geek3, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Join in!

Please share ideas or successes – or indeed questions – on our Facebook Page: https://fb.me/physicstp .  You can also message us via our website contact form at the.physicsteachingpodcast.com, Twitter @physicstp, email using  the address given in the podcast (if we remember), you could even email us an autio file if you are feeling really keen.


The music is used under the Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 International License