This lab allows students to see that a wire carrying an electric current can be used to create an electromagnet. Then they test to see the effects of increased voltage, increased wraps of wire, and switching the direction of the current. You can use this on its own, or have this lab follow the Electromagnetism Observations activity, listed separately.
Three experimental variables are described to students, and then they are asked to come up with hypotheses regarding each. They are asked to describe the materials and experimental procedure they will use to test each hypothesis. Students record their results and come up with their own conclusions. This lab requires some familiarity with the basic structure of a scientific report. The introduction is based on students’ prior knowledge and sharing with classmates.
I typically use this lab later in the school year, after I have had a chance to review the basic structure of our reports. I usually investigate magnets after completing activities about electric circuits, but this lab works independently. There may be a few concepts about building a working circuit that you may want to go over or demonstrate before students are asked to describe their procedure.
The wire for this activity can be enameled wire or insulated wire. Wire size is listed as an AWG number. AWG is the abbreviation for American Wire Gauge. The higher the number is, the finer the wire. AWG 20 or 22 is a good size for this activity. You can use finer wire, but you may need to adjust the number of wraps used. You should avoid wire gauges that are much lower (bigger wire) because it will be hard for the students to wrap the wire by hand. Any size iron nail will be suitable. You will also need several boxes of paperclips, either size will work.
This lab includes the blank report with directions for the students incorporated, a rubric, and photos of the activity. The forms are both Word files, that you can edit, and PDFs.
This lab works for students as young as 3rd grade. Opportunities for extending the concepts with older students include having them come up with their own variables to test.