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Physical Geography

Carrie Davis Todd
, Worcester State College
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This is a survey course designed to cover key concepts in physical geography, from climate change to landscape processes to map interpretation. The course has no laboratory component but includes a variety of in-class activities to provide applications of course content.

Course Type:
Entry Level :Physical Geography

Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture only

Institution Type:
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

This is a lecture-based introductory physical geography course intended for all students. The course is usually taken by non-majors to meet the Natural Science and Math distribution requirement, although some students are "recruited" from this course to become geography majors. This course serves as a pre-requisite for most upper-level courses in physical geography.

In your department, do majors and non-majors take separate introductory courses? no

If students take a "non-majors" course, and then decide to become a major, do they have to go back and take an additional introductory course? no

Course Content:

The focus of this course is on recognizing Earth's four spheres (atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere) and learning geographical techniques to understand each. Course topics are addressed through lectures and in-class activities, with an emphasis on topographic map interpretation and data analysis.

Course Goals:

Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:
- read a topographic map, identify landscape features, and explain the processes responsible for these features
- explain the interactions among Earth's four spheres and predict how a change in one could impact the others
- discuss the relative influences of natural and anthropogenic forces on Earth's climate
- discuss the natural processes that shape Earth's surface and compare these processes to the role of humans on landscapes and the environment
- recognize and analyze current global events related to course topics

Course Features:

Students will achieve the course goals primarily through in-class activities and weekly quizzes. Two example activities are Campus Map Scale and Soil Properties.

Course Philosophy:

This course was designed to bring hands-on and practical applications of physical geography to a lecture-based (no laboratory component) course while raising students' awareness of the role of humans on physical geography.


Student assessment is conducted through weekly quizzes, in-class activities, and exams.


Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 149kB May7 08)

References and Notes:

Introducing Physical Geography, 4th Edition Alan Strahler and Arthur Strahler
I was somewhat familiar with this text prior to teaching this course. Also, the cost was lower than many other similar texts.

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