Hands-On Learning: Make a Compass


Around the Kessler house, we tend to take on a topic and run with it, then fit our other subjects into that theme. It takes some effort, but it works for us and keeps interest high. So, lately we’ve been learning about pirates… more on that later, but for now here’s one way we’ve made it work for the content areas…

In our reading, we learned that the early Chinese pirates were pretty successful. Why? Because their ancestors had already invented a little tool that helped them navigate the seas and successfully find coastal towns and merchant ships to raid and plunder. The ancient Chinese pirates used a compass.




They had discovered that a lodestone always rotated until it pointed in a north-south direction when dropped into a cup of water. We decided to try this out.




If you want to try it yourself, you’ll need:

  • a paper plate
  • clay or play dough
  • a sharpened pencil
  • a horseshoe magnet
  • your science notebook




First, put a ball of clay or dough in the center of the plate:



Then, put the pencil in the dough, eraser side down (LEGO mini figures are great helpers!):



Finally, balance the horseshoe magnet on the tip of the pencil and watch what happens:



The magnet will spin, then come to rest in a north-south direction. You can check this with a real compass if you want to. Make sure you draw or write your observations in your notebook:




The only change I’d suggest is to use a horseshoe magnet with a wider middle. This one was narrow and proved difficult to keep free-spinning.

Enjoy! Have a great Thursday…