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Earth Sciences - Geography

Anne Jefferson
, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
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Summary


This course is an Earth systems science course that surveys atmosphere and energy balances; global circulation and weather; climate change; water resources, rivers, and coasts; soils and ecosystems. Understanding the causes, processes, and implications of climate change is a unifying theme of the course. A lecture format is followed, but in-class activities are included where possible.

Course Type:
Entry Level:Earth System Science Entry Level

Course Size:
31-70

Course Format:
Lecture only

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs

Course Context:

This course fulfills general education requirements and serves an introductory course for Earth Science, Geology, and Meteorology majors. General education requires two science courses, one with lab, so some non-majors take the lab, while others don't. Majors are required to take the lab. Multiple sections are offered each semester; some are linked with TA-taught labs while others are not linked to a lab requirement. I have always taught sections that are not linked to labs, so my students are almost all non-majors.

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? yes

Course Content:

This course is an Earth systems science course that surveys atmosphere and energy balances; global circulation and weather; climate change; water resources, rivers, and coasts; soils and ecosystems. Understanding the causes, processes, and implications of climate change is a unifying theme of the course. Students currently have two assignments designed to get them to interact with Earth Science. They are required to keep a weather journal and do an analysis of it, and they are required to take a hike and describe the earth science features that they observe. We also emphasize building skills like graph and map reading and basic mathematical calculations.

Course Goals:

After completing this course, students should be able to:
  1. understand and use common earth science tools like graphs, contour maps, and geographic coordinates
  2. apply the concept of energy and mass balance to earth systems
  3. identify and describe earth science processes and features in the natural environment
  4. discuss and contextualize current earth science topics in the news, such as ozone depletion, hurricanes, climate change, and drought

Course Features:

The weather journal and "take a hike" assignments directly contribute to students engaging with the course material. For example, in the weather journal assignment, students make qualitative observations three times daily for a week, and they also must consult a weather report (TV, newspaper, internet) once per day. They are simultaneous identifying features and processes in the natural environment (Objective 3) and using earth science tools (Objective 1). An in-class activity requires students to work in groups to decide whether a terminal groin should be built on a barrier island, based on opposing editorials and lecture information. This sort of activity contributes to their ability to contextualize the course material (Objective 4).

Course Philosophy:

My course design was partially dictated by the fact that our department offers multiple sections of the course with multiple instructors to varying classroom sizes, so I needed something compatible with my colleagues and adaptable to different conditions in subsequent semesters. I would like to reduce the amount of lecturing I end up doing, but I am still working to create in-class activities and other interactive features that are suitable for a large classroom.

Assessment:

I focus on giving the students iterative chances to learn and demonstrate mastery of the course material. Students have access to lecture materials and example questions on Blackboard (a course management system). Biweekly, open-book multiple choice quizzes are also given on Blackboard. Three closed-book, multiple choice exams are given in class, but students have a chance to take the 10 "hardest" questions from the exam again on Blackboard with open books and no time restriction. Our department has also generated a set of standard post-test questions given to all sections of the course. Students also have a chance to demonstrate mastery with their "Take a Hike" and weather journal assignments and through a variety of extra credit activities.

Syllabus:

Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 36kB May7 08)

References and Notes:

Christopherson, R.W. Geosystems, custom edition.


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