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Magnetic Discovery Bottle

Grades: 3-5
Author: Diane Zak
Source: Adapted from Science NetLinks grade 3-5 Magnets; Student Sheet - Magnetic Pick-ups


This lesson uses a "Magnetic Discovery Bottle" to teach students:

  • how to conduct a simple investigation
  • to use simple equipment to gather data
  • to use data to arrive at a reasonable explanation
  • to communicate the investigations and explanations
  • to describe the properties of magnets
  • to explain why some materials are magnetic and some are not


What should students know as a result of this lesson?

  • Students should be able to decide which types of objects are attracted to magnets

What should the students be able to do as a result of this lesson?

  • Classify and sort items using a binary classification system
  • Communicate data by using a data collection sheet
  • Predict an object's ability to be attracted to a magnet by observing its physical attributes
  • Develop their own definition about magnetic materials through exploration


1 clean 1-liter water bottle with a magnetic wand attached (for each center or group of students).

The wands may be ordered from Educational Innovations: The order number is #M-510 currently (2005-2006) $1.50 each. Tie one wand to each bottle's neck with a string or piece of yarn. (The magnetic wands work better and are easier to use than other types of magnets.)

Collections of the following items:

  • Various items made of iron or containing iron such as: nails, twist tie, battery, wire, paper clip, magnetic marble
  • Various metal items not made of iron or containing iron such as: dime, penny, screw, nickel, Pop-can tab, aluminum
  • Various items not containing metal such as: beads, rubber band, crayon, eraser
  • If magnetic marbles are used be sure that there is only one per bottle because two tend to cling together; also be aware that these marbles look a lot like bubble gum – a possible safety issue
  • Data Sheet: 1 per student

Put 4-5 items from the suggestions above in each bottle. To keep students from removing the cap and taking out the items, glue the cap back on the bottle. Then tie on the magnet. For ease of distribution and data collection, consider numbering the bottles.



Before proceeding, by your questions and their responses, make sure that students understand PREDICTING: Knowledge from previous experience is used to make a prediction (what you think will happen), that can be tested.


Two balls (one large: volley ball, one small: golf ball) or (one heavy: soft ball, one light: tennis ball)...Which ball will hit the floor first when both are dropped from the same height and dropped at the same time?

Allow students to observe, touch, and lift the balls before dropping them.

Test your predictions: Drop both balls at the same time from the same height; observe (Both balls will hit the floor at the same time.)

*It may be necessary to drop the balls a few times to make sure both balls hit the floor at the same time.

Tell the students that when they made a guess about what would happen to the balls, they were making a prediction. Scientists make predictions about what they think will happen when they test something.

Before proceeding, be sure that students understand the posed problem: Tell the students that today they will be making predictions about magnets. They should use what they already know to make their predictions.

  1. Ask the students if they know what a magnet is. What is special about magnets? What are magnets used for? Do they own any magnets? Are all magnets the same size? Do all magnets have the same power of attraction? Do they have any games that use magnets? How are the magnets used in the game(s)?
  2. Each group of students will be given a bottle with several objects in it. Look at the objects and decide which ones you think will be attracted to a magnet and which ones you think will not be attracted to a magnet. Remind students to work safely – review safety rules for doing science activities.
  3. * Groups work well with older students. Very young children should work independently.

Assessment: Monitor students' answers to your questions to be sure everyone understands the goals of the lesson. Use the students' input to make a class chart or poster illustrating the steps involved in making predictions. (1. make careful observations, using their five senses 2. past experiences and prior knowledge 3. guess what will happen next)

*If the students need help with the answers, prompt them – What was the first thing they did with the balls? (Looked at them, touched them, lifted them). What was the second thing they did before the balls were dropped? (Made a prediction/guess about which ball would hit the floor first). What was the last thing they did? (Observed the balls being dropped to find out if their predictions/guesses were correct).


  1. Allow time to observe and make predictions about which objects, in the bottle, will or will not be attracted to the magnet.
  2. Older students should fill in the data sheet: Name of object to be tested, Prediction: What will happen? Younger students could draw pictures of their predictions. Example: on ¼ of the paper draw pictures of objects they predict will be attracted to the magnet and on ¼ of the paper draw pictures of objects they predict will not be attracted to the magnet.
  3. Students should test their predictions by bringing the magnet close to each object in the bottle.
  4. Older students should record their observations on their data sheet. What really did happen? Younger students, using the other half of their paper, should draw pictures of the objects that were attracted to the magnet, the objects that were not attracted to the magnet, and finally the objects that surprised them.
  5. Talk with your group about your predictions. Which ones were correct? Which predictions were not correct?

* Older students may be in groups of 3 or 4. Very young children work better individually.

Assessment: Monitor students' work to check that they are carrying out procedures carefully, making observations, and recording data accurately.

Redirect their attention to the task, as needed.

Make sure that students are employing safe practices as they conduct the activity.

Check to see that each member of the group is participating.

Answer students' questions regarding procedures.

Note: Be aware that explanations of the phenomena will be discussed in the next part of the lesson, so do not give answers to questions aimed at explaining "why" something is happening or not happening.


Students report their findings.

  1. Based on your findings, what general statements can you make about the objects tested?
  2. What kinds of things were attracted to the magnets?
  3. Do magnets attract all the objects that you had that were made of metal?
  4. What metals are attracted to magnets? (Metals with an iron content)
  5. Describe some properties of the objects that are not attracted to magnets? (nonmetal, metals not containing iron)
  6. Did any of the objects surprise you? Which one(s)? What did you expect? What happened? Give your explanation for what happened. (Possible answer: marble (magnetic): was attracted to the magnet, does not look like it is metal, it contains a small magnet inside; dime: it was not attracted to the magnet, it is metal, it is a metal that does not contain iron.)

Assessment: Listen to students' accounts of their findings to judge if their reports are supported by the findings that you observed as experiments were being conducted. Ascertain students' knowledge of magnets by having the students make a poster illustrating and labeling what they learned about magnets, their properties, and objects that are attracted to magnets.

Older students could make a cartoon, with a minimum of 5 or 6 sections, explaining the kinds of things that are attracted to magnets, properties of magnets, and several uses of magnets.

Younger students could draw a picture depicting things that are attracted to magnets, properties of magnets, and several uses of magnets.


A fun demonstration: Iron is a mineral the human body needs to carry oxygen in the blood. With insufficient iron, a person will feel very tired much of the time (anemia). We get this iron from the foods we eat. Packaged foods have a food label listing the ingredients. The cereal "Total" contains 100% of the iron a person needs in one day.

  1. Take one or two flakes of "Total", or any other cereal containing a high percentage of iron, and break into small pieces.
  2. Place the small pieces in a short, clear plastic container or Petri dish, with a small amount of water for the flakes to float on.
  3. Place the Petri dish on an overhead projector to make it easier for all students to observe.
  4. Place a strong magnet near some pieces of the cereal, without touching the pieces. Watch what happens. (The pieces of cereal, containing iron, will be attracted to the magnet, and will follow it in the water.)

Assessment: Take a survey of magnets in their home. Make a chart with two columns. The first column should contain the name of the appliance, object that uses a magnet, or is a magnet. The other column should contain information about how the magnet is used. Example: Refrigerator door ……. Uses magnets to keep the door closed; Decorative flower magnet ….. Used to attach notes to the refrigerator; calendar magnet ….. Used to keep track of the date.


Discuss the safety rules for magnets, pointing out the items in the classroom, which should be avoided. (Depending on the age of the students, it would be wise to visually mark these with a warning sign.) See "Safety"

Best Teaching Practices

  • Hands-on Teaching
  • Questioning
  • Inquiry

Alignment with Standards

NGSS Standards:

  • 3-PS2-2 Make observations and/or measurements of an object's motion to provide evidence that a pattern can be used to predict future motion.
  • 3-PS2-3 Ask questions to determine cause and effect relationships of electric or magnetic interactions between two objects not in contact with each other.
  • 3-PS2-4 Define a simple design problem that can be solved by applying scientific ideas about magnets.

National Standards:

  • Content Standard A: K-4 Science as Inquiry
  • Content Standard B: K-4 Physical Science

Ohio Standards:

  • Grades 3-5 Scientific Inquiry Benchmark B
  • Grades 3-5 Physical Science Benchmark B

Content Knowledge


PREDICTING: What you think will happen

A hypothesis is an educated guess, based on previous experiences. Correct or incorrect predictions, in science, do not matter. What does matter is that the prediction leads us to a test that can lead us to the truth. Making careful observations provides us with information. We can use this information to make predictions about possible answers to our questions. Our answers are based on our observations and previous experiences. The prediction must be one that can be tested. For example: See Procedure (Learning Cycle)

Materials that are attracted to a magnet become temporarily magnetic themselves. Examples students may be familiar with include paper clips, scissors, screw driver. Iron (or iron alloys), like steel, are the most common objects that are magnetic. Three other metals that are magnetic, but are not commonly found, are nickel, cobalt, and barium ferrite. These four metals are called ferromagnetic metals. A U.S. nickel does not have a high enough nickel content to be magnetic, but a Canadian nickel does.

Many appliances such as computers, radios, telephones, TVs, and speakers use magnets as part of their internal make-up. All electric motors consist of a rotating electrical conductor that sits between the poles of a stationary magnet. See "Applications"


Caution needs to be exercised when using magnets since placing magnets near computers and computer discs, television sets, wind-up watches, cassette tapes, answering machines, VCR's, microwave ovens, radios, tape recorders, telephones, or credit cards can damage these items. If magnetic marbles are used be aware that these marbles look a lot like bubble gum – a possible safety issue

Remind students to use science materials for the correct purpose; no horseplay in the lab; be careful not to put objects in your mouth; do not share materials with students in another group.


In homes: magnets are used in advertising and decorations such as refrigerator magnets. They are useful as fasteners and latches. They are necessary parts of the operation of refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, washing machines, compact disc players, blenders, hedge trimmers, drills, audiotapes, videotape players, and speakers, toy trains, toy cars, and robots…in anything that moves or rotates, since all electric motors consist of a rotating electrical conductor that sits between the poles of a stationary magnet.

Magnets in telephones, radios, and TV sets help change electrical impulses into sounds.

Industry: Cranes, fax machines, photocopiers, printing presses, and computers. Huge magnets move iron and steel scrap.

Transportation: Trains, trolleys, subways, monorails, cable cars, escalators, elevators, moving sidewalks, windshield wipers, electric windows and doors, door locks and other devices in automobiles, buses, and airplanes. Electromagnets produce radio waves in radar systems which is important as a navigation aid for ships and airplanes.

Medicine: MRI used for diagnosing diseases.


  • Branley, F. M., Vaughn, E. K., Johnson, C. (Illustrator) (1976) Mickey's Magnet. Scholastic
  • Pressling, R. (1994) My magnet. Milwaukee, WI: Gareth Stevens Publishing
  • Rosinsky, N. M., Boyd, S. (Illustrator) (2003) Magnets: Pulling Together, Pushing Apart. Minneapolis, MN: Picture Window Books


See Learning Cycle, Exploration, and Elaboration Assessment, Student worksheet

Other Considerations

Grouping Suggestions: Older students can be placed in groups of 3-4 students with varied abilities. Assign each student in the group with a job. Relate jobs to real-world positions such as managers with job descriptions. See worksheets: Managers' job title with job descriptions. The Managers' job descriptions can be printed out on colored paper, a different color for each job. Provide each group with a set of these cards. With very young children, you may prefer to have the students work alone.

Pacing/Suggested Time: This activity will take 2-4 class periods.

Printable PDF Worksheets

Data Sheet

Manager's Job Descriptions