• The Open University

Basic Science: Understanding Numbers

This course explains how you can use numbers to describe the natural world and make sense of everything from atoms to oceans.

40,777 enrolled on this course

Basic Science: Understanding Numbers
  • Duration4 weeks
  • Weekly study3 hours

This practical, hands-on course will help you to start thinking like a scientist, by using numbers to describe and understand the natural world.

It might be the size of the Greenland ice sheet, the number of molecules in a raindrop, or the latest set of mind-boggling numbers about climate change presented in the media.

No longer will you be put off by averages or percentages, and you’ll even learn to love negative numbers. You will understand and manage numbers like a scientist. The course will introduce all the main skills you’ll need to understand and communicate scientific numbers, relate them to the real world, and share your discoveries with other learners.

You may also be interested in joining Basic Science: Understanding Experiments.

All Open University science courses presented on FutureLearn are produced with the kind support of Dangoor Education.

Download video: standard or HD

What topics will you cover?

The course is divided into 4 weeks:

  • Why science needs numbers including writing and presenting very large and very small numbers for science
  • Using numbers for science including calculating areas, volumes and density
  • Important concepts in numbers for science including rounding, fractions, percentages and negative numbers
  • Communicating numbers for science including averages, drawing and interpreting graphs, correlation, causation and coincidence

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Calculate and use a scientific calculator
  • Calculate volumes, areas and density
  • Apply numbers to understand how simple models help understand scientific problems, such as ice melting and climate change
  • Demonstrate and use numbers to test scientific hypotheses
  • Apply SI units to length, time, mass temperature used for science
  • Interpret numbers written in scientific notation to understand the natural world
  • Develop skills to round numbers written in scientific notation
  • Calculate and use fractions, percentages and averages for science
  • Evaluate positive and negative numbers
  • Apply, create and evaluate graphs to understand issues in science

Who is the course for?

This course is intended for anyone with an interest in numbers and making scientific observations. It does not require mathematical skills or any previous experience of studying the subject.

There are no special requirements for this course but you may like to find a simple calculator in a drawer or on your mobile phone to help you with some of the maths calculations.

Who will you learn with?

I’m an academic at the Open University responsible for the virtual microscope for Earth sciences and working on the Moons and Numbers MOOCs. I’m a geologist specialising in finding the age of rocks.

I am a lecturer in Earth Sciences at The Open University. My research aims to understand the origin, evolution and ecology of tropical rainforests.

Who developed the course?

The Open University

The Open University (OU) is the largest academic institution in the UK and a world leader in flexible distance learning, with a mission to be open to people, places, methods and ideas.

  • Established1969
  • LocationMilton Keynes, UK
  • World rankingTop 510Source: Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2020


supported by

Dangoor Education logo