Questions in science
This introductory science module encompasses astronomy and planetary science; biology; chemistry; Earth and environmental sciences; and physics. A series of questions, starting with ‘Can you make a hole in water? and ‘How do you know what is alive?’, teaches scientific thinking. You will undertake a number of practical experiments, both ‘hands-on’ in your own home and online. This module is the entry point for the Natural Sciences degree, and develops generic study skills, maths skills and investigative skills alongside key concepts in science.
What you will study
This module consists of 11 topics, most of which are phrased as questions to highlight the key scientific skill of enquiry. The final topic, ‘Bad science’ brings together the principles of good science practice that you will have learnt throughout the module.
Topic 1: Can you make a hole in water?
Water is essential for life as we know it and water has many special properties singling it out from other substances, making it of interest to all scientists. This topic will introduce you to some fascinating science including chemistry, Earth sciences and physics.
Topic 2: How do you know what is alive?
This topic will focus on the biological functions which are used to define 'life'. First you learn about the diversity of living things, and what living organisms are made up of. You will learn about the basic functions of life; growth, reproduction, metabolism, and response to stimuli or adaptation to the environment.
Topic 3: Why does it snow in winter?
You will gain a basic understanding of what makes the weather on Earth, and its seasonal cycle. The topic starts with forces, then investigates gravity, and the orbit of the Earth around the Sun, and the Moon around the Earth. Finally the topic looks at how these forces combine together to give the Earth its distinctive climatic zones.
Topic 4: Is there life on Mars?
Life can be found all over the Earth, with a huge range of diversity and abundance. Some organisms have developed ways to live and thrive in extreme environments such as hot deserts or deep oceans. Knowing how these organisms survive enables us to consider whether life might exist on Mars
Topic 5: Why do metals corrode?
This topic explores the main characteristic properties of metals. You will look at the chemical interactions of metals with different surrounding environments (in air, soil and water) and how the reactivity of different metals varies greatly. Easy ways of preventing metal deterioration will be also discussed. You will build a battery using galvanized nails and copper wire and carry out simple chemistry experiments with copper coins and iron nails.
Topic 6: How similar am I to a plant?
The diverse array of organisms that exist on Earth seem to have very little in common, apart from being ‘alive’ as described in Topic 2. You will learn about the principles of inheritance and genetics and you will be asked to consider how different humans are from each other and to investigate this yourself.
Topic 7: Does the Earth move under your feet?
The Earth is very diverse, yet we do see similarities between separate parts of world in the geology, and the species living there. How has this come about? Is it the result of moving plants and animals or a moving Earth? This topic discusses the different mechanisms underlying the movement and distribution of organisms around the world, including ocean and wind currents, continental drift and sea-level change, as well as the role of humans and the influence of evolution.
Topic 8: Are waves everywhere?
What are waves and how do they form? This topic is all about conservation of energy and restoring forces. There are waves you can see as well as waves you cannot see. You will develop an understanding of what waves are, and why and how they happen, as well as how we as humans can exploit some of their properties.
Topic 9: Can we lead a chemical-free life?
This topic examines some common misconceptions, responsible for turning the word chemical into a shorthand for “unpleasant additive". Are synthetic chemicals dangerous? Are natural chemicals better for us? We look at chemicals within the Earth and their use as ‘natural resources’; at chemicals in our diet and inside our homes; and at chemicals as treatments for disease. This topic includes a home experiment on toxicity and a field trip to survey the ‘health’ of a local water body.
Topic 10: Why does the Sun shine?
The Sun provides the energy necessary for life on Earth but how does it work? We look at the physical properties of our own star and the physical processes that power it. In the latter part of this topic we examine the Sun in a wider astronomical context, relating it to other stars, examining its evolution and death in the far future and the intimate role played by the death of stars in the birth of life.
Topic 11: What is ‘Bad Science’?
The module concludes with a look at the ethics of scientific experimentation; a discussion of good practice in experimentation to ensure results are unbiased and scientifically sound. This final topic leads to the final piece of assessment which looks back over experiments undertaken throughout the module.
You will learn
Scientists have questioning minds and this fundamental skill is developed by this module. You will learn key scientific concepts, develop your own scientific thinking and, by the end of the module, you will be a confident, independent learner. You will develop skills of scientific investigation through practical experimentation and share your findings with other students. An important part of this module is the development of your key mathematical skills, crucial for scientific analysis and explanation. As this module is entirely online, your skills for learning online will also be developed.
The study materials, study guide, activities, assignments, forums, online tutorial rooms and other resources are all provided via a dedicated website. Where possible the materials are also available in other formats including PDF, EPUB, interactive eBook (EPUB3), Kindle eBook and Microsoft Word should you wish to study on mobile devices. Note: The purchase of ‘print-on-demand’ texts will not be an option for this module.
You will need
All study and assessment materials will be delivered online, via the module website, so you will need a computer with internet access throughout to read the online text; to engage with the online activities, tutorials and student forums; to upload evidence of your home experiment results; to keep up to date with module news items; and to access your other study materials, including the module assignments.
A digital camera is recommended to record images of your work.
You will need a simple scientific calculator of the type sold as suitable for GCSE/A level use in any large supermarket. The calculator on a mobile phone, tablet or computer is not suitable as your only calculator for this module.
You may find it useful to have a notebook and pen for note-taking and working out your answers to self-assessment questions and activities.
You will need a headset, with a microphone and earphones, to get the most out of your online tutorials.
You may need to draw diagrams or graphs and then use either a scanner or a digital camera to produce files of these diagrams for inclusion in your assessments.
The module includes some simple home experiments which will require some basic kitchen, DIY or garden equipment, including (but not restricted to) a kitchen weighing scale; a means of freezing water; re-usable plastic and glass containers of various sizes; a clock or watch; galvanised nails, copper wire and electrical cable; items of fruit or vegetables; offcuts of cardboard. If you are unable to undertake the experiments, we will provide alternative ways to enable you to take part in the experiment.
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.