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Discovering mathematics

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This key introductory OU level 1 module provides a gentle start to the study of mathematics. It will help you to integrate mathematical ideas into your everyday thinking and build your confidence in using and learning mathematics. You’ll cover statistical, graphical, algebraic, trigonometric and numerical concepts and techniques, and be introduced to mathematical modelling. Formal calculus is not included and you are not expected to have any previous knowledge of algebra. The skills introduced will be ideal if you plan to study more mathematics modules, such as Essential mathematics 1 (MST124). It is also suitable for users of mathematics in other areas, such as computing, science, technology, social science, humanities, business and education.

What you will study

In order to study this module successfully you should expect to be actively doing mathematics, rather than just reading it. You will also be encouraged to develop skills in interpreting and explaining mathematics, and this aspect will be assessed in some of the assignment questions.

Samples of the study materials, including example assessment questions, are available from our MathsChoices website.

Providing you have the appropriate background knowledge, you should expect to study for about eight hours a week. Many of the topics covered in the module depend on your understanding of topics in earlier units. So, if you have not fully understood earlier material, you may find later material more difficult and time consuming. This is particularly true of graphs, formulas and algebra. Naturally, the study time required for the module tends to increase before an assignment deadline.

You will learn

Successful study of this module should begin to develop your skills in working with mathematical concepts and using them to solve problems.

You will learn about:

  • key ideas in mathematics, including some statistics, algebra, geometry and trigonometry
  • mathematical vocabulary and notation introduced and developed in the module
  • selection and use of mathematical techniques for solving problems
  • interpretation of results in the context of real life situations
  • simple mathematical arguments
  • how to explain mathematical ideas from the module in writing
  • development of skills in learning mathematics
  • use of relevant ICT tools for learning and for working on mathematical problems
  • describing problems mathematically
  • analysing mathematical reasoning.

The module contains many real world contexts such as journey planning, glaciers, supply and demand, depreciation, poverty levels, chance events, and medical conditions (such as cancer), to help illustrate mathematical topics.

Professional recognition

This module is sometimes accepted as an acceptable equivalent qualification to GCSE grade C in mathematics by teacher training institutions, but always at the discretion of each institution. So, if you hope to use it for this purpose, you are advised to check as early as possible with your chosen teacher training institution(s). 

Entry requirements

This is a key introductory OU level 1 module. OU level 1 modules provide core subject knowledge and study skills needed for both higher education and distance learning, to help you progress to modules at level 2.

You are advised to have previous experience in mathematics, before commencing this module. In particular, you should be confident with the following topics:

  • arithmetic of numbers, including negative numbers and fractions
  • scientific notation for numbers (sometimes known as standard form)
  • powers of numbers including square roots
  • using your scientific calculator effectively for the above topics, and for working with brackets and π
  • using simple word formulas
  • drawing and interpreting simple charts and graphs.

You are not expected to have any skills in algebra before the module starts.

It is essential that you establish whether or not your background and experience give you a sound basis on which to tackle this module, since students who are appropriately prepared have the best chance of completing their studies successfully and get the most enjoyment out of it. You are strongly advised to follow the recommendations given in the Preparatory work section below.

There are two mathematics entry-level modules, this one and Essential mathematics 1 (MST124). Your choice of which one to start with depends on your mathematical knowledge, experience and on the qualification you have in mind. 

For advice about where to begin your study in maths please look at our MathsChoices website. The website also contains a self-assessment quiz to help you decide if this is the right module for you.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

Preparatory work

It is recommended that you work through some of the free and open educational resources from the Maths Help website, where there is a module to help you to refresh your knowledge of each of the following topics:

  • Numbers, units and arithmetic
  • Rounding and estimation
  • Ratio, proportion and percentages
  • Squares, roots and powers
  • Diagrams, charts and graphs
  • Language, notation and formulas
  • Geometry.

Alternatively, you could study any textbook that covers the same topics.

What's included

Books, DVD, and a dedicated website containing online activities and resources.

You will need

A scientific calculator. We recommend any Casio scientific calculator with 'natural display', as these enable you to key in calculations in the same order as they usually appear in written text, and have a two-line display so that you can see both your calculation and the answer. Some instructions for using the Casio fx-83ES, and compatible models, are provided in the study materials. Any other scientific calculator is also acceptable provided that you know how to use it before the module starts, and you have access to the appropriate calculator manual (these are often available to download from the manufacturer’s website). Please note that you do not need to have a graphics or programmable calculator to study this module.

(If you have studied Science, technology and maths Access module (Y033), you can use the calculator from that module providing you have access to the manual.)

You will require access to the internet at least once a week to download resources and assignments, keep up to date with news and to access the interactive computer-marked assignments (iCMAs).

A headset with a microphone and earphones is recommended in order to participate fully in online tutorials.

Computing requirements

A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module.  Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

A desktop or laptop computer with either:

  • Windows 7 or higher
  • macOS 10.7 or higher

The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

To participate in our online-discussion area you will need both a microphone and speakers/headphones. 

Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students. 

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and who you can ask for advice and guidance. If you are new to the OU, you will find that your tutor is particularly concerned to help you with your study methods. We may also be able to offer local group tutorials or day schools that you are strongly encouraged, but not obliged, to attend. Where your tutorials are held will depend on the distribution of students taking this module. Some tutors may offer online group tutorials in addition to, or instead of, face-to-face tutorials.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.

Assessment

The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You can choose whether to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) on paper or online through the eTMA system. You may want to use the eTMA system for some of your assignments but submit on paper for others. You may also submit the end-of-module assessment (EMA) online or on paper. This is entirely your choice.

The first interactive computer-marked assignment (iCMA), covering Unit 1, is to be submitted about two weeks after the start of the module. The first TMA is to be submitted about a month after the start.

TMA questions typically involve calculating, creating and/or interpreting a graph or diagram, using algebra, and explaining your work and conclusions. The latter is one factor that makes this a university-level module and it is a new approach for some students, who may find it challenging initially. Some TMAs may also include a short question covering a wider aspect of studying maths. 

As there is no examination, the end-of-module assessment (EMA) aims to consolidate your learning across different aspects of the module. It covers the whole of the module, and is compulsory if you wish to pass the module.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying MU123 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Discovering mathematics (MU123) starts twice a year – in February and October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2018 and February 2019. We expect it to start for the last time in February 2022.

Course work includes:

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
5 Interactive computer-marked assignments (iCMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

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