Basic science: understanding numbers
Basic science: understanding numbers

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Basic science: understanding numbers

Basic science: understanding numbers


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Hello, and welcome to Basic science: understanding numbers. I'm Janet Sumner from The Open University. Over the next four weeks, you will gain a better appreciation and understanding of numbers, and how they're used in science.
Numbers are everywhere in our lives and, more than ever before, it's important to understand them. They're used in everything from news reports of climate change and banking crisis, to real science experiments, such as in the sister course, Understanding Experiments. This course isn't about maths, so you won't have to carry out any complicated calculations. But you will be introduced to some of the more common concepts, such as how large numbers are represented, how to work out an average or area, and how to read a graph. We'll also show you why you don't need to understand fractions, and warn you about the percent button on calculators.
OK, here we go. In week one, you learn about some basic concepts for numbers, including the way scientists write very big or very small numbers. You'll also cover units of measurement, like kilogrammes, metres, and litres, and how they came about. This week starts with a video about bottled water consumption. It's a short, documentary-style video from the Open University, which uses numbers in a similar way to news programmes and other documentaries.
I hope you'll enjoy the next four weeks, and don't forget to get stuck into the discussions. You'll find people on there with all levels of expertise. I'll be back to catch up with you next week.
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Janet Sumner is your guide through this course. She is a Media Fellow at The Open University with a specialist interest in volcanoes. Janet will appear at the start of each week to tip you off about the highlights and challenges, to remind you what you’ve learned and to help you make the most of these four weeks of scientific discovery.

Over the next four weeks you will look at how scientists:

  • communicate with each other
  • calculate area, volume and density and what this means for the Greenland ice sheet
  • present numbers using significant figures, decimal places, fractions and percentages
  • use different types of averages, draw and interpret graphs and find correlations in data.

This course is going to assume that you are new to studying science, so don’t worry if you haven’t studied science before.

The course starts off simply, but by Week 4 you will be calculating the density of the Greenland ice sheet! This week, you’ll be focusing on how numbers are used in science.

To test your knowledge you can try the end-of-week quizzes and there’s a final end-of-course quiz.

There are plenty of opportunities to communicate with other learners. There are forum threads for activities in each week. Please join in!

Before you start, The Open University would really appreciate a few minutes of your time to tell us about yourself and your expectations of the course. Your input will help to further improve the online learning experience. If you’d like to help, and if you haven't done so already, please fill in this optional survey [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

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