HoB icon

Mapping Concepts across grades

Sample topic - magnetic fields

Questioning is the basis of all learning.


This article includes information on how to map a topic across a K-8 curriculum. The topic is magnetism. Information for this mapping is divided into two main areas: First the science content and how learners in three age groups might develop understanding for magnetism. And second, describes how to map the information across grade levels.

Note the range of the grade levels are wide and the information is general so learners performance will also vary from those who struggle to those who understand easily.

Analysis of content and learner development

PreK considerations

Background information

Young learners experiences with magnetism starts with them playing with magnets, magnetic objects, and non magnetic objects to see how they interact and with what materials. Their experiences can include discussion and suggestions woven into more exploration to verify and refute new discoveries. If these explorations include sufficient opportunities, then the learners will be better able to distinguish what materials will and won't interact magnetically and what properties are necessary for that interaction.

Obviously one of the first experiences young children have with magnets is a discrepant event when they first touch a magnet to something magnetic and notice it sticks. Additional developmentally appropriate experiences can be provide to achieve greater understanding. Activities that will result with the following outcomes, for early learners, through conceptualize with the noted activity.

  • Identify magnets and non magnets. Achieve by explaining which objects will or won't interact magnetically by touching magnetic and non magnetic objects to other magnets and iron and sorting them as interacting or not interacting magnetically.
  • Identify that magnets stick to metal. Achieve by demonstrating magnets stick to metal.
  • Feel magnetic interactions. Feel a magnet push and pull with another magnet. Feel push and pull of magnets with slow deliberate movements of magnets.
  • Recognize metal and nonmetal. Feel metal as hard, smooth, cool to touch surface, and fairly strong.

Supporting science processes

  • Identify properties of objects. Hard, soft, cool, warmer, bendable, stiff, magnetic, non magnetic
  • Classification by unique properties. (Concepts: Objects can be classified into groups by unique properties. Most objects can be classified as having or not having a specific property.)


  • Attract, not attract, interact, magnetic, non magnetic, metal, non metal.

Exploration of magnetism as sticky

Let's explore what magnets are magnetic might mean to a young child.

The first thing they might experience is magnets stick and how they know this is because they observe magnets sticking to something, probably metal. However, did they experience that magnets seem to pull toward (interact at a distance) a magnetic object and then stick to it? Or did they experience it as a touching interaction? Magnet touches and sticks to the magnetic object?

It is interesting and important to interview young learners to try to diagnose how much they know about how magnets interact with say the refrigerator.

Would they describe, interacting at a distance in a convincing manner? Such as a magnet pulls toward the refrigerator before it touches it or is stuck?

To an adult this seems obvious and wouldn’t seem necessary to ask. Because it seems so simple to feel the pull before it is stuck. However, do young children recognize the interaction as a sequence of interactions that change relative to the distance of the magnet from a magnetic object? Or do they center on the fact that the magnet is sticking?

Piaget’s ideas suggests development is incremental and the ability to accommodate information is limited by the learner’s present understanding of ways to operate on the information they are sensing at the time. Since these are young learners they will most likely be content to focus on one variable at a time. Considering this, among other characteristics of learners at this age, it would seem likely that most will focus on the magnet stuck to the refrigerator and not decenter, transform, reverse, seriate, and increment to gain a deeper understanding.

However, understanding these different operations will help teachers to focus learners attention with questions while they experience magnets and interact with them to help them construct understanding beyond what most kindergarten learners can discover on their own.

Exploration of properties of magnetism

Kindergarten children are experts at learning language. Particularly putting labels on concrete objects, actions, emotional feelings, smells, tastes, touches, sounds ... Things that can be experienced with their senses (concrete).

The rectangular piece of metal or rubberized cube that sticks to the refrigerator = magnet (label). Touches, smooth, rough, pull, push, color, shape, ... All the properties that different concrete objects have. However, they may need a bit of priming to focus on a property to observe and recognize it when called to their attention.

Since, they usually recognize objects, the same way we recognize a black silhouette of a coyote plywood cutout stuck in a person’s yard. They look at the whole object and compare its shape to their mental representations of shapes of objects previously constructed and stored as a mental representation to find a match. So to expect kindergarten learners to match words (labels) to physical objects or something that they personally experience is very appropriate. It’s a matter of experiences and motivation, not development. Just think how soon a young child learns the label for the image of the objects: McDonald's arches and the shape of a Happy Meal container.

To help learners move beyond identification of objects and ideas by visual outlines and surface ideas they must create an understanding of properties or characteristics and that everything is really labeled, identified, and classified by its properties and characteristics by reasoning. That reasoning includes reasoning about properties and identifying properties that are necessary, sufficient, or unrelated to identify and classify. Reasoning with the use of deduction and induction to solve problems with minimal information or to make inferences with incomplete information.

Therefore, the majority of a kindergarten teacher's time and their student’s time should be spent collecting observable information (properties or characteristics) putting labels to all the different properties, and organizing the different properties into categories (color, shape, size, position, feel, texture, sounds, smells, tastes...) how properties and information can be classified and how to make predictions based on past observations (If there are clouds in the sky it might rain. If there are no clouds in the sky, it won’t rain).

Beyond Kindergarten to third or fourth grade considerations

Background information

A gateway outcome for learners at this age is when they are able to easily describe magnetic interactions as interactions at a distance that vary with distance from the magnet to a magnetic object are considered. If this is not the case , then learners at this age should be able to experience and feel a magnets interaction at a distance and explain the magnetic force as a push and pull and how it operates with an operational definition such as magnets or a magnets and magnetic object interact at a distance with a push and pull that varies with the distance between them.

They will also be better able to coordinate multiple variables to classify objects and sort magnetic objects with more precision. For example contain iron, nickel, or cobalt.

Along with better use of properties can come recognition of different combinations. This understanding can lead to understanding the complexity of the four different kinds of interactions between magnets by exploring all the possible combinations between two magnets.

Fourth grade is a fairly comfortable time when most learners can begin to appreciate such combinations when they are given several different experiences that will result in their experiencing all possible combinations through trial and error with concrete manipulation, provided a good discussion of results, a matrix or other visual as a bridge to proceduralize a way to systematically generate all possible examples. Examples like how many times does each person have to shake hands so everybody in class shakes hands with everyone else?

Sixth grade and beyond considerations

Background information

Topics and concepts to support understanding magnetism.

  • Relative position and motion
  • Matter, mass, force
  • Magnetism and magnetic field
  • Electricity and electrical fields and flow of electricity
  • Energy source, receiver, transfer
  • Explanation and models
  • Inductive and deductive reasoning

While learners at this level may not have developed all the necessary mental operations to use to construct deep information about magnetism, they are usually very capable to do so when provided with concrete opportunities and scaffolding to do so.


Magnetic fields. Inductive reasoning can be used to infer a magnetic field and its shape by using a compass and iron filings to systematically explore around a magnet. The distance and position of the compass and position of the iron filings would be changed (independent variables or manipulated variables) and other variables would be controlled. Varied and repeated to collect observational data of the needle on the compass or the position of the iron filings (dependent variables or responding variables) through the three dimensional space around various magnets to collect observable and repeatable evidence to create a visualization or a visual model of a magnetic field.

The 3-d magnetic field is one kind of depth that sixth graders are able to understand and create models with which to think about magnetic fields. Again, if they were motivated. It would take a lot of thinking and drawings to first create a 3-D visual model, and then to animate it to use to explain what happens when magnets approach one another with different orientations. They need To be able to visualize three dimensionally and conserve volume and space. For learners to attain science literacy this kind of depth of understanding is what must be achieved.

Deductive reasoning can be used to infer a magnetic field for electro magnets and around electric currents. When the circuit is open there is no magnetic field around a wire or the core of an electro magnet. When the electric circuit is closed there is a magnetic field around the core that has wire wrapped around it and a flow of electric current. Therefore, the flow of electricity must be creating the magnetic field.

If the number of batteries in the closed circuit are increased,when connected in series or the number of turns of wire around the bolt are increased, then the number of objects or the weight of the combined objects that can be moved by the magnetic field increases. Therefore, by increasing the amount of electrical energy flowing around the core the strength and probably the size of the magnetic field is increased.

Transfer of energy is proportional to the amount of energy in the source and the method of transfer.

Scientific inquiry - observations of objects within three dimensional space.

History of science - Michael Faraday 1830+ moved a magnet in a coil of wire and discovered that doing so produced a current of electricity in the wire.

What might a sixth grader might be able to learn?

The answer is; Anything that can be represented or modeled in the real world or in the imaginary world to an analogy of something that can be modeled concretely that they already understand.

Think about that sentence until you can own it.

Therefore, plans to provide enough concrete real life experiences that includes overwhelming observable evidence to convince them beyond a reasonable doubt that their representation or model accurately explains what is happening and will help them, in the future, to understand and explain their world.

Parting Comment: Formal operational thinking isn’t just creating a theory. Theories have been more often created by inductive reasoning from concrete observable data than with formal operational thinking.

Mapping a topic across grade levels

With an understanding of the big ideas related to the topic and how learners might conceptualize them, the next step is to decide on a procedure or steps to create a concept map. The following steps provide an example. The steps can be done in almost any order as information is collected.

Steps to create a concept map

  1. Decide categories of information to include on the map. We could focus only on concepts or we could include additional information.
  2. I selected, for this sample: a topic, the ideas or concepts, the experiences that might facilitate it's learning, standards or benchmarks, and final outcome as explained in Science for All Americans . - see blank sample map template.
  3. Select a topic to map. Magnetism. - see added to the map template.
  4. Identify information learners know about the concept when they start school and how that information could be known. - see template with initial information.
  5. Decide what experiences would be appropriate for kindergarten students to provide the initial information in case they may not have had experiences with the topic so so they will have opportunities to learn so all students might attain a more equal beginning point.
  6. Decide what can be expected for kindergarten students to know about magnetism by the end of kindergarten and identify learning experiences they can participate in to learn that information.
  7. Review curricular expectations, knowledge of children, wisdom of practice and complete the map by adding concepts, experiences, source and expected science literacy outcomes for additional grades. Complete map

Information to consider during the process

The learner's developmental level must be considered when ways of understanding the topical ideas are considered. Learners must have the reasoning abilities to construct an accurate representation of the scientific knowledge or other dimensions (inquiry, process, perspectives, social skill, emotional skill) to be mapped.

For learners to develop more elaborate conceptualizations for magnetic fields , their development must include more advanced ideas. Like: able to conserve their reasoning, represent objects and ideas in three dimensions, simultaneously manipulate more than two variables, to reason with invisible phenomena by using observations of those changing variables that represent magnetic fields and properties of objects that interact with magnetic fields. The characteristics of students in the primary grades are not sufficiently developed for them to create advanced representations or mental models of a magnetic field. However with appropriate primary experiences early middle level learners will be able to do so.

More specifically their developmental structures will include:

  • Conservation: transformation, reversibility, infinity
  • Visual spatial reasoning - relative position, motion, perspective drawings, visual representation and manipulation of a visual magnetic fields, using incomplete pieces and slices of observation to create a complete spatial representation of magnetic fields.
  • Simultaneously manipulating two or more variables to visualize the results of manipulated variables on responding variables.
  • Systematic reasoning
  • Proportionality

Since primary learners are developmentally limited in their ways of understanding magnetism, should it be included in the early curriculum?

Certainly. Magnets are an important object in our world, they are very attractive, especially to young people, and have unique properties. However, they are best included with process topics such as properties, observation, interactions (at a distance or touching) measurement, relative position and motion; or learning how to do scientific investigations.

  • Primary - properties, observation, classification, interactions, communication, and scientific inquiry
  • Intermediate - relative position and motion, force, energy, energy transfer, and models.


Blank map template for concept mapping

A blank sample template to use as a guide to illustrate the process of creating a concept planning map, the type of information collected, and possible sources of various information.

blank concept map template


Select a topic to map - magnetism. Add Magnetism to the template.

concept map with title added


Sample 1

Decide what information learners have about the concept when they come to school and add the information in the cloud to the right of the comment - Prekindergarten experiences.

Decide what experiences would be appropriate for kindergarten learners and put them in the top ellipse.

Then decide what can be expected for kindergarten learners to know about magnetism by the end of kindergarten and put it in the adjacent rectangle.

Concept map with kindergarten information


Complete concept map for Magnetic Fields

A complete template to illustrate the process of creating a concept planning map, the type of information collected, and possible sources of information used to construct it.

Concept map magnetism finished




Science home