This is a fascinating activity that demonstrates the most basic aspects of electromagnetism, namely that an electric current has an associated magnetic field oriented perpendicular to the flow of electrons. Students will also see that reversing the flow of electrons switches the polarity of the magnetic field.
This activity requires a few basic supplies. If you are incorporating this into an electricity and magnetism unit, you should have most of what you need on hand (i.e. test leads, batteries, bulbs, and switches). In addition to these items, you will need some insulated copper wire (20 gauge “doorbell wire” works well and is available at most hardware stores), and some small compasses. You will also need a permanent magnet with the north and south poles labeled.
This lab also presents an opportunity to discuss the magnetic poles of the Earth and how they relate to the poles of a compass and magnet. Student will see that the north pole of the compass is attracted to the south pole of the permanent magnet. Based on this observation, students can conclude that the “north” pole of the Earth is the same as the south pole of the permanent magnet. Even though we refer to the place as the North Pole, it is actually the south pole of the Earth’s magnetic field.
One extension of this activity for older students would be to have them consider the direction of flow of electrons (they flow from the negative terminal of a battery to the positive terminal) relative to the magnetic field. They are perpendicular to one another.
I do not complete a rubric for this activity. It is more of a jumping off point for discussion and a source of observations for future activities. I have included an answer sheet, and files as both PDFs and Word documents.