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Magnetic Fields and Bermuda Triangles Lesson Plan

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Lesson Plan #:AELP-EAR002
Author: Alfons N. Bouchier; Los Alamos High School, Los Alamos, NM Date: May 1994

Grade Level(s): 8, 9, 10, 11, 12


  • Science/Earth Science

OVERVIEW: The magnetic field around a permanent magnet, like the gravitational field around a massive object, is not only invisible, but hard for students to comprehend. With no concrete experience to draw from, they tend to ignore this basic concept, or at best, memorize facts about it.


This activity shows how to map a magnetic field, and to find how a bar magnet’s field combines with the Earth’s magnetic field to form a complex resultant field.

OBJECTIVES: Students will be able to:

  • Use a compass to determine the direction of a magnetic field at any point in space.
  • Explain how two magnetic fields combine.
  • Predict the location of areas where two fields can cancel each other to leave no resultant field. ( Bermuda Triangles )

    Weak to moderate strength bar magnets correctly labeled, very small compasses (sold as ‘flux path compasses’ ), butcher paper.


  • Ask students to write down several things that they already know about force fields. After several minutes, ask for volunteers to share ideas. Work up interest in the topic.
  • Demonstrate the familiar field around a bar magnet with iron filings. Ask them how this is affected by Earth’s magnetic field. Point out that with a more sensitive detector they can see how the two combine.
  • Have each student team :
    1. tape a large square of butcher paper down to their table, large enough that a compass can lose a bar magnet’s effect. Lay a bar magnet on the paper and trace around it. Label N and S.
    2. lay a small compass on the paper, touching the bar magnet anywhere. Place a dot outside the compass case, in line with the end of the needle away from the magnet. Move the compass in the direction the needle points until it is just beyond the dot you just made. Place a second dot where the needle points now. Continue to move the compass and make dots until you reach another point on the bar magnet or the edge of the paper. Connect the dots with a smooth curve. Repeat for other lines, spread out more or less evenly over the area.
    3. determine and label a direction for each line. The N-seeking tip of a compass will point to the N pole of the Earth or the S end of a bar magnet. Place arrowheads on each line.
    4. find and label areas where each of the two fields dominate so much that they appear to be the only factor. Find and label an area where the two fields cancel, and explain their evidence for this canceling.
  • Post the field maps. Have each team explain which side of their map faced geomagnetic N, and how the geomagnetic lines were warped by the bar magnet. Discuss any crossed field lines – is this really possible?

  • Make and discuss overhead transparencies of the geomagnetic field as seen from space, stretched by the solar wind.
  • Ask for similarities to gravitational and electrical fields, as well as differences.
  • For that special group that really needs some extra attention, be sure to tape an extra magnet to the bottom of their table before class. Ask them to hypothesize why theirs is the only field map with an extra series of curves…..

  • May 1994

    These lesson plans are the result of the work of the teachers who have attended the Columbia Education Center’s Summer Workshop. CEC is a consortium of teacher from 14 western states dedicated to improving the quality of education in the rural, western, United States, and particularly the quality of math and science Education. CEC uses Big Sky Telegraph as the hub of their telecommunications network that allows the participating teachers to stay in contact with their trainers and peers that they have met at the Workshops.