When Magnets Create Magic – Floating Pencil Holder STEM Experiment

A bit of a life update! I have been volunteering with Beanstalk as a reading helper for primary school kids for a few months now. I like volunteering and I have done it on and off for almost my entire life (and by ‘entire life’ I mean since college, school life just passed me by without leaving much of a mark).

My heart swells up when I volunteer. Not because of some narcissist reason but because I feel like a responsible person – I take from the community and I also give back. I love the fact that my dedication to a task comes from my belief in the cause and not from the payment I receive for it.

Yellow Mellow Life Bhawna Saini

At my recent visit to a school as a reading helper, as I chitchatted with a child, he told me that his favourite subject is science. His reason being, “I can do magic with science.” And I thought, there couldn’t be a better way to describe this subject.

My daughter LittleB is 7 years old. Science is a favourite of her and of many of her friends because IT IS like MAGIC for them. Science makes things shrink or expand, or appear or disappear or it simply does something that we otherwise deem impossible. Baking soda gets all fizzy with just a splash of vinegar and a fragile egg turns into a bouncy ball by the magic of science.

Even the smallest and the most basic of science experiments can make kids wonder. And you don’t need a ‘kit’ or some special ‘equipment’ to do some abracadabra with science. Things lying around the house (especially in the kitchen or the shed) are materials enough for hundreds of science experiments.

If you need some inspiration to get started with helping your kids do experiment out of household stuff, there’s no better motivator then Arvind Gupta. This Indian scientist is often referred to as a ‘toymaker’ because of his passion for helping kids fall in love with science by making toys from trash. This year, when the country conferred on him Padma Shree, India’s fourth highest civilian honour, I couldn’t have been prouder. I had to do something to celebrate the moment and so I decided to make one of his STEM  (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) toys with LittleB.

Floating Pencil Holder STEM Experiment

The experiment is about making a magical pencil holder. This magical holder keeps a pencil in place without holding it at all! So if the holder isn’t holding the pencil, then what is?! And not just holding the pencil, what is it that is balancing the pencil so steadily on its point. You can give the pencil a twirl and it will start spinning and yet it will not fall down and stay perfectly balanced.

This ‘floating pencil holder STEM experiment’ is from Arvind Gupta’s collection of ‘Toys from Trash.’ The list of materials is just a guide, you don’t have to look for the exact same materials, make do with whatever closer you can find lying around. Just that one thing that is a must for this experiment is a magnet – you need two actually.

Floating Pencil Holder STEM Experiment – Materials Required

1 Old CD for the base

 A sharpened pencil

1 long stick, just about half inch longer than the pencil (The stick can be wooden; you can use dowels or even chopsticks. I am using a knitting needle instead.)

1 ice-cream stick

2 magnets out of which at least 1 should be a ring magnet

Hot glue gun

Pipe cleaner of any colour (you can use colourful tape as well)

Floating Pencil Holder STEM Experiment – How to Go About It

Hot glue the long stick upright on to the old CD. My knitting needle couldn’t stand upright properly so I propped it on a flat craft bead.

floating pencil holder STEM experiment

Hot glue the ice-cream stick flat on the top of the long stick.

Arvind Gupta toys from trash

We are basically looking for making a frame like this –

science experiment with magnets

Wrap the pipe cleaner or the colourful tape around the pencil. This is not a mandatory step. The wrapped up colourful pipe cleaner or tape just make the spinning look better.

floating pencil holder STEM experiment

Attach the ring magnet at the back of the pencil. You might or might not have to use hot glue for it.

Arvind Gupta toys from trash

Now place the other magnet on the ledge made by the ice-cream stick, do not hot glue it yet. Hold the pencil upright on the CD cover so that pencil’s ring magnet is right under the magnet on the ice-cream stick.

floating pencil holder STEM experiment

As you leave the pencil, if it falls down, that means the magnet on the ice-cream stick and the one on the pencil are repelling each other. So turn the magnet on the ice-cream stick upside down. Now both the magnets should be attracting each other.

As you leave the pencil now, it should stay upright, perfectly balanced.

floating pencil holder STEM experiment

Even when you spin it, the pencil won’t lose its balance and will stay steadily on its point.

As you must have guessed, the reason pencil seems to float at a single point is because the magnet on the top of the ice cream stick is attracting the magnet at the end of the pencil. The distance between them is just right for the attraction forces to work and yet the force is not strong enough to pull the pencil up altogether.

floating pencil holder STEM experiment

Science experiments do not necessarily have to be complicated to wow kids, even simple ones can be just as effective. LittleB is mesmerised by her magical floating pencil holder STEM experiment. Using the same frame, she has tried to float her pens, crayons, rulers and an endless number of school stationery.

What do you think about science? Do you think it is magical or do you think it is just something we study in school? Let me know in the comments below.

Click on the pics below for some more STEM activities from YellowMellowLife –

newspaper pirate ship play activity for kids

Pirate Ship Out of Newspaper

sizzling ice chalk activity

Sizzling Ice Chalk

pinhole projector for observing sun

Eclipse That Led Us to Make a Pinhole Projector

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