cart Shopping Cart cart(0)

Make a simple compass: An oldie but a goodie!

You will need:

  • 1 iron needle
  • A small piece of styrofoam
  • 1 bar magnet
  • 1 flat pie plate



1. Fill the pie plate with water, about 3cm in depth.

2. Float the styrofoam in the middle of the plate.

3. Carefully stroke the needle length ways along the bar magnet, around 30 times.

4. Gently place the needle on the styrofoam and watch what happens.
Make a compass out of a needle experiment
Want more ideas for teaching science?

Subscribe to the FizzicsEd Podcast!

Listen to FizzicsEd on Apple Podcasts

FizzicsEd podcast available on Stitcher

Why does this happen?

The Earth is like one gigantic magnet, where nobody really knows how it works. 

A good theory is that the magnetic field is generated by the movement of the molten iron in the Earth's mantle. Compasses are just smaller magnets that detect the North Pole of the Earth's magnetic field.

Rubbing the iron needle on the magnet aligns the magnetic domains within the needle,
making it magnetic. Floating it allows the magnetic needle to align with Earth's magnetic field.

This type of compass has been around for hundreds of years, ever since the properties of magnetite or 'lodestone' have been used for navigation. Lodestone literally means 'the stone that leads'.

Be Amazing Book Front Cover; Ben Newsome, teacher & founder of Fizzics Education. Be Amazing -how to teach science the way primary kids love
Be Amazing!
How to teach science, the way primary kids love

Read more about Be Amazing
Join our newsletter for more science teaching thoughts & ideas

Join the Fizzics newsletter

Back to Electricity & Magnetism experiments

>100 Free Science Experiments on this site!

Coloured shadows
  • Experiments to colour your class!
  • Easy & fun
read more
skeleton and student
  • Make fake blood & more!
  • Biology made simple
read more
electricity experiments
  • Circuit science for kids
  • Cheap materials found easily
read more
Vortex rings made with fog
  • Experiments using Newton's Laws
  • Step by step science
read more

School Science Visits: 

  • Highly engaging & curriculum-linked
  • Additional Teacher Support Resources
  • Professional visits in-class or via video conference
  • Both Primary School & High School science incursions
Call 1300 856 828 or use this form to discuss or make a show booking for your school!

Love Science?

Signup to our fortnightly email! Learn more

Contact us

1300 856 828

Unit 10/55 Fourth Ave
Blacktown, NSW 2148, Australia
facebook-icon Apple Podcast Icon  twitter-icon
linkedin-icon youtube-icon   pinterest-icon