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Online course

Getting a Grip on Mathematical Symbolism

Want to be an engineer or scientist? Lack mathematical confidence? Learn to think mathematically and explore essential concepts.

What’s the difference between a free course and an upgraded course?


  • Access to the course for its duration + 14 days, regardless of when you join (this includes access to articles, videos, peer review steps, quizzes)
  • No access to course tests
  • No certificate


  • Unlimited access to the course, for as long as it exists on FutureLearn (this includes access to articles, videos, peer review steps, quizzes)
  • Access to course tests
  • A Statement of Participation when you complete over half the course

Find out more

Getting a Grip on Mathematical Symbolism

Why join the course?

This course is aimed at those who aspire to study science or engineering foundation courses at university level. It draws upon the experience of staff from the Mathematics Education Centre at Loughborough University - a centre that has specialised for many years in mathematics teaching and mathematics support for science and engineering students who find the transition to university mathematics particularly challenging.

Through an accessible introduction to graphical and algebraic techniques students will start to think mathematically and develop an informal understanding of vital properties of points, lines and curves before formalising mathematically some of these essential notions. We adopt a user-friendly approach and describe mathematical processes in everyday language. New ideas are developed by example and discovery rather than by formal proof. Further development will introduce the equation of a line and the significance of its slope and vertical intercept.

The course will close by reinforcing the importance of mathematics to science and engineering. It will pave the way into the study of calculus by explaining that engineers and scientists need to build upon the ideas introduced in order to describe, analyse and predict the behaviour of physical, biological and technological systems.

What will you do ?

  • watch video explanations of key mathematical ideas
  • hear from leading scientists and engineers about the importance of mathematics to their work
  • watch fully worked mathematical examples
  • try to solve mathematics problems yourself
  • learn how to plot points and straight line graphs and use these lines to solve problems
  • test your progress with quizzes
  • try to apply what you have learned
  • share ideas with other learners on the course
  • prepare yourself well for embarking upon a science or engineering course

Professor Tony Croft has written two blogs posts which talk about the role this free online course might play in helping to prepare young people for the mathematical demands of university courses in STEM subjects:

Trying to make it all add up: preparing young people for the mathematical demands of university

Breaking into science and engineering: strengthening mathematical foundations

Download video: standard or HD

When would you like to start?

  • Date to be announced

Who is the course for?

The course is designed for students who have some engineering or science knowledge gained through vocational qualifications or through workplace experience but who perhaps have not studied mathematics formally since leaving school. It will be appropriate for those who lack confidence but who need to establish a bedrock of knowledge in order to further their education. To gain the most from the course it will be necessary to plot some graphs (graph paper will be provided). Please note that this is a foundation, entry-level course and is not intended for those who already possess recent post-GCSE mathematics qualifications.

Who will you learn with?

Tony Croft

Professor of Mathematics Education at Loughborough University specialising in mathematics for engineers and mathematics support for students who find university mathematics particularly challenging.

Who developed the course?

Loughborough University is renowned for its excellence in research, teaching and enterprise. Today Loughborough is one of the leading higher education institutions in the country.

Buy a personalised, digital and printed certificate

You can buy a Statement of Participation for this course — a personalised certificate in both digital and printed formats, to celebrate taking part.

£34.00 + shipping

Estimate prices in preferred currency

Charges to your account will be made in GBP. Prices in local currency are provided as a convenience and are only an estimate based on current exchange rates.