What you will study
Each week you’ll study a self-contained topic, including the following:
Scales in space and time
Scale – dealing with the minuscule to the massive, over milliseconds to millennia – is central to all the sciences. You’ll go to the absolute limits of what we can measure – all through a study of an oak tree!
Rocks: recycling the planet
You’ll use a digital collection of minerals and rocks to learn about the materials that make up the solid earth; the processes by which they are transformed into rocks; and how rocks reveal their history.
Earth is 4.6 billion years old. How do we know that? How do we know the history of life on earth? You’ll gain an understanding of the methods that are used to determine relative and absolute ages of rocks and the processes that formed them.
Plate tectonics – the process that allows earth’s interior, surface and atmosphere to interact – constantly reshapes the earth. You’ll study evidence for the theory of plate tectonics, one of the most influential ideas in science.
Biogeochemical cycles describe how chemical elements cycle through living things and the physical environment. You’ll study three important cycles – water, carbon and nitrogen – and how human behaviour can disrupt them.
Ecosystems contain many interlinked biological components interacting with their physical environment, yet there are consistent patterns in the way energy flows through them. These patterns allow us to explore, describe and compare ecosystems, necessary for understanding disruptions.
Ecosystems react to environmental changes caused by both natural and human factors. You’ll learn about natural environmental change and what happens when an invasive species is introduced to an unprepared ecosystem. You’ll understand how we know that environmental change is taking place and how it can be managed.
Forces around you
Forces are central to the motion and stability of the world around us. You’ll learn how to identify and manipulate forces in a range of everyday situations.
Introduction to energy
Energy is another central concept which will be re-visited. This week looks at potential and kinetic energy and explores the concept of heat and temperature.
You’ll explore the materials which make up the world around you and learn how to describe and record your observations of the physical behaviour of materials. You’ll link the macroscopic world to the microscopic by examining the behaviour of the particles from which materials are formed.
The quantum realm
Quantum mechanics is a big idea for understanding the world of atoms. You’ll learn how this is important for processes in physics, chemistry and even biology.
Why chemical reactions happen
You’ll explore chemical change through understanding how particles interact and rearrange, and learn the rules that govern these interactions, allowing you to make predictions about chemical behaviour.
Make me a molecule
You’ll discover how knowledge of the microscopic world enables new materials to be created and how everyday items can be both made, and made better.
Energy in chemistry and the life sciences
Beginning with the nature of chemical bonds in simple molecules, you’ll explore how living cells transform and distribute energy, why we can’t run marathons as fast as we sprint 100 m, and the amazing capability of our eyes and ears as detectors of light and sound waves.
DNA: life’s replicating book of recipes
You’ll learn about the twin functions of DNA, as store of the information required for life, and as a molecule capable of replication, allowing its information to be inherited.
Proteins: how DNA makes life
Proteins are the means by which inherited information is turned into life. This topic provides an introduction into how these fascinating molecules are made and the myriad of essential functions they carry out.
The multicellular organism: cells in harmony
The basic unit of life is the cell; most plants and animals are multicellular organisms. You’ll learn how, in a multicellular organism, different cell types are produced from the same set of instructions, and how the health of multicellular organisms depends on each of these cell types working together.
Energy in society
In your third look at energy you’ll explore the science of powering the world! You’ll look at fossil fuels, nuclear energy and renewable energy, and will meet one of the most famous equations in science, E = mc2.
You’ll also choose two topics that you find most interesting or are going to study at higher level. You’ll go on to complete investigations tasks on your chosen topics, and pick one to prepare a short presentation on:
- Biodiversity and evolution – Life on earth is diverse. To discover why you’ll learn about the relationship between an organism and its environment, and how intense competition between organisms really does make life all about ‘the survival of the fittest’.
- How chemical reactions happen – You’ll consider the driving forces that cause new molecules to be made and gain a deeper understanding of the role that energy and entropy play in chemical processes.
- The earth: atmosphere to core – Much of planet earth cannot be seen, so how do earth scientists find out about its inaccessible interior? You’ll learn how the answers can come from chance events such as earthquakes as well as planned experiments and a study of the rocks at the surface.
- Living in a changing climate – Earth’s climate is changing. How do we know what is happening and how can we predict what might happen in the future? How big are the challenges we face and who should we believe when there are conflicting statements about climate change? You’ll learn how to make an informed decision about our priorities for a more sustainable future.
- Components of the universe – This topic addresses the universe, from the smallest asteroid to the largest galaxies. You’ll discover a missing component to the universe, taking you right to the edge of current research.
The two distinct practical blocks cover (1) observation and (2) controlling variables. In the first, you’ll explore making observations and accurately recording them. You’ll take weather station readings and, in a team of fellow students, access a weather-data archive to address a question posed by your tutor. You’ll also undertake an online experiment from your choice of scientific discipline. In the second, you’ll take part in a group activity. You’ll then have the choice of one activity from biology; chemistry; physics; earth science; or environmental science and ecology.
You will learn
A key aim of the module is to continue your development as an independent learner so that when confronted by something you don’t know, your response is ‘I don’t know that, how can I find out about it?’, rather than ‘I haven’t been taught that.’ So, alongside developing your understanding of key concepts in the various sciences, to enable you to embrace new ideas with increasing confidence, you’ll develop the following skills:
- communication skills
- collaboration skills
- observation, investigation and practical skills
- mathematical skills
- information gathering, analytical and interpretative skills
- reflective practice around your skills development.
The following are activities you’ll engage in:
- collaborative and online practical work
- report writing
- finding and communicating information to others
- self-assessing skills development.