• 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.

40,779 enrolled on this course

Bottles of water
  • Duration

    4 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 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.

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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

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

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

As the UK’s largest university, The Open University (OU) supports thousands of students to achieve their goals and ambitions via supported distance learning, helping to fit learning around professional and personal life commitments.

  • Established

  • Location

    Milton Keynes, UK
  • World ranking

    Top 510Source: Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2020

Endorsers and supporters

supported by

Dangoor Education logo

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps to help you keep track of your learning
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

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