T-GEM and Magnetic Fields

I’ve found that one of the more challenging science topics in the grade 5 curriculum is magnets and electricity. In particular, setting up tasks that allow students to engage with, and readily observe, magnetic fields is especially difficult, and the rate of success that students have with these concepts vary greatly depending on the results and observations that their experiments allow them to make. Essentially, some of the students find the concepts quite abstract if they are unable to engage with visual conceptions of magnetic fields. From this, I’ve found two simulations from the PhET library that provide students with the opportunity to explore magnetic fields, while ensuring that they achieve visible results that they can observe and make/modify conclusions upon.

Specific Learner Expectations (Grade 5 Alberta Curriculum):

  • students will describe and demonstrate example activities that show that electricity and magnetism are related
  • students will demonstrate and interpret evidence of magnetic fields around magnets


  • students will explore the following PhET simulation on Magnets and Electromagnets: Simulation #1
  • students will examine the interactions between a bar magnet and a compass, as well as how to create a magnet using a battery and wire
  • How can we create a stronger magnet? How can we reverse the magnetic field?
  • Through observing magnetic fields in the simulation, can you predict the direction of the magnetic field around different types of magnets? What are the variables involved with electromagnets, and how do the variables affect the strength and direction of the magnetic fields?


  • based on their predictions and the identification of variables through interacting with Simulation #1, students will apply and evaluate their findings through working with a games that incorporates these concepts: Electric Field Hockey
  • by placing electric charges in the field of play, students will further experiment with magnetic fields through the challenge of getting the puck into the goal
  • students will observe the magnetic fields and experiment with their previous findings to identify variables that impact the strength and direction of magnetic fields


  • students collaborate in small groups to discuss their findings and observations and share how their initial ideas and predictions have been changed through their interactions with the two simulations
  • students will further apply their understanding of concepts by playing more challenging levels of Electric Field Hockey through adding walls and obstacles that require deeper problem solving skills
  • students groups will decide how they would like to compile their observations and understandings to be shared with the whole class (this could include demonstrations of the skills and strategies that students applied within Electric Field Hockey, as related to their initial thoughts and predictions within Simulation #1)


Khan, S. (2007). Model-based inquiries in chemistry. Science Education, 91(6), 877-905.

Khan, S. (2010). New pedagogies for teaching with computer simulations. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 20(3), 215-232.


  1. Hi Allen,
    I liked what you did with your T-GEM model. I wonder how the students will share their understandings and observations with the class? Will it be a verbal discussion or with an app such as Padlet? Group collaboration is essential with T-GEM models, it’s just a matter of the students finding the right tool to showcase their presentation.

    1. I’d likely give the students some options as to how they ultimately decide to share and present their findings. Groups would meet to discuss initially before selecting a tool or method to showcase their work to their peer in the larger whole class group. Padlet would definitely be one of the options available to them.

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