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A New Direction: How a Compass Pointed the Way to Clearing Up an Attractive Misconception
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1.Of course, it is the motion of electrons that is ultimately responsible for the formation of domains. However, at the introductory high school level, forming a complete picture of magnetism, including magnetic moments, is usually not a necessary nor achievable goal.
2.Kerry Browne and David P. Jackson, “Simple experiments to help students understand magnetic phenomena,” Phys. Teach. 45, 425429 (Oct. 2007).
3.Developed by David Sederberg as part of a professional development program hosted by Purdue University in conjunction with the National Centers for Learning and Teaching in Nanoscale Science and Engineering led by Lynn Bryan and Nicholas Giordano and funded by NSF grant ESI-0426328.
4.“The statements below refer to magnets and magnetism. Based on your own interpretation, mark whether you agree or disagree with what each statement says: a)A balloon rubbed against your sweater on a dry day will stick to the wall. The balloon is also a magnet. b) A static charged balloon will turn a compass needle.”
5.Another variation on the demonstration can use Browne and Jackson's floating magnetized paper clip. When a magnet held above a bowl of water is brought close to one end and then moved toward the other (along the length of the paper clip), the paper clip spins. Investigating with a charged balloon in a similar fashion causes the paper clip to move, but in straight lines only.

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Ask a typical high school student to draw a picture of how a bar magnet works and most of the drawings produced will show a “+” and “−” sign at the two ends. Some students will write “N” and “S.” If you then ask some follow-up questions, they will often resort to talking about “charges” being responsible for the magnetism. For several years, I have tried to tackle this prevalent misconception and guide students toward a more sophisticated model of domains, with at least one unexpected outcome along the way. This year, my AP Physics B class helped me develop a simple demonstration that may convince some students that charges are not in charge of magnetism.1


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Scitation: A New Direction: How a Compass Pointed the Way to Clearing Up an Attractive Misconception