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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?’, demonstrates the interdisciplinarity of the sciences and teaches scientific thinking.

What you will study

This module consists of 11 topics, which have questions as titles to help you start thinking like a scientist. The final topic, What is ‘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 Earth around the Sun, and the Moon around Earth. Finally the topic looks at how these forces combine to give Earth its distinctive climatic zones.

Topic 4: Is there life on Mars?
Life is found in all environments across 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 are 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 consider how different humans are from one another and investigate this yourself.

Topic 7: Does the earth move under your feet?
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? 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.This topic is also about conservation of energy and restoring forces.

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

You will learn the key scientific concepts that underpin the world around us. You will develop scientific and critical thinking skills that will help you understand and use scientific information. 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 key mathematical skills, crucial for scientific analysis and explanation. As this module is entirely online, your skills for learning and working online will also be developed. By the end of the module, you will be a confident, independent learner.

Entry requirements

At The Open University, we believe education should be open to all, so we provide high-quality university education to anyone who wishes to realise their ambitions and fulfil their potential.

Even though there are no entry requirements, you’ll need the ability to:

  • add, subtract, multiply and divide simple numbers
  • read and understand written English of a style and complexity characteristic of scientic articles or magazines
  • write clearly and concisely, structuring short pieces of writing so that they flow coherently
  • log on to the internet, find websites and communicate by email
  • create, save and retrieve documents using basic word-processing skills.

Are you ready for S111?

What's included

You’ll have access to a module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • course-specific module materials, including interactives and animations
  • audio and video content
  • assessment details, instructions and guidance
  • online tutorial access
  • access to student and tutor group forums.

Where possible the materials are also available in other formats including PDF, EPUB, interactive ebook (EPUB3), Kindle ebook and Microsoft Word, which can supplement your online study. ‘Print-on-demand’ is not available for this module.

You’ll also have access to learning events that support your study skills and offer an opportunity to engage with current research and topical issues in science. The ‘Discover’ labcast is delivered live by OU researchers and academic members of the module team from the laboratories at the Open University campus in Milton Keynes. The ‘Good academic practice’ tutorials support your skills development in writing and referencing at university level.

You will need

A phone or tablet with a camera, or a digital camera1 – to take photographs of your experiments and upload images.

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 isn’t sufficient for this module.

Some basic kitchen, DIY or garden equipment – for simple home experiments – 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
  • electrical cable
  • items of fruit or vegetables
  • offcuts of cardboard.

A list of equipment needed for home experiments is provided at the beginning of each topic. If you’re unable to undertake the experiments, particularly those that form part of the assessment, we’ll provide alternative ways to enable you to take part.

1A scanner is recommended for uploading drawn images.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Monterey or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:

  • Marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve.
  • Guiding you to additional learning resources.
  • Providing individual guidance, whether that’s for general study skills or specific module content.
  • Facilitating online discussions between your fellow students, in the dedicated module and tutor group forums.

Module tutors also run online tutorials throughout the module. Where possible, recordings of online tutorials will be made available to students. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for you to complete the module, you’re strongly encouraged to take part.

Assessment

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

Laboratory schools

The School of Life, Health and Chemical Sciences offers optional laboratory schools in Milton Keynes at an additional cost. Laboratory schools are not part of this module but may be of interest if you wish to gain relevant hands-on laboratory experience.

Further information and instructions for booking are on the SS011 website.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying S111 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

Questions in science (S111) starts twice a year – in January/February and October.

This page describes the module that will start in October 2024 and January 2025.

We expect it to start for the last time in January 2026.

Course work includes:

7 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
10 Interactive computer-marked assignments (iCMAs)
No examination

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