Teach the Earth > Introductory Courses > Course Descriptions > Physical Geography

Physical Geography

Carla Grandy
, City College of San Francisco


This course is an overview of both the atmospheric and geomorphologic aspects of physical geography. The first half of the semester deals with atmospheric processes and meteorology, including climate change. The second half of the course begins with plate tectonics and interior processes and moves on to geomorphology.

Course Type:
Entry Level Physical Geography

Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture only

Institution Type:
Two Year College

Course Context:

This is an introductory course with no pre-requisites. Most (~80-100%) of students are non-majors, mostly non-science majors who are taking the class to fulfill a physical science requirement. There is also a lab class that is offered and coordinates with the lecture, but it is not required and many students either do not enroll in it or enroll during a different semester.

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 first half of the course focuses on meteorology and atmospheric science including the structure of the atmosphere, atmospheric circulation and moisture, storms, climate classification, and climate change. The second half of the class focuses on plate tectonics and more traditional geology topics of folding, faulting, and earthquakes. We finish the semester with geomorphology including: mass wasting, fluvial processes, arid and glacial landscapes, and coastlines. The optional lab that accompanies the course follows the same sequence.

Course Goals:

1. Students will be able why different locations experience different weather patterns.
2. Students will be able to watch the weather on the news or look at a weather map and understand how the pressure systems relate to temperature and precipitation patterns.
3. Students will gain an understanding of the basic mechanics involved in climate change and be able to make informed interpretations of climate change issues.
4. Students will understand tectonic setting and how it relates to geologic features.
5. Students will understand why we have earthquakes in the Bay Area.
6. When students are on a road trip they will look around and even if they don't understand the origin of the topographic and geologic features around them, then at least notice them and wonder why.
7. Students will be inspired to learn more about their surroundings.

Course Features:

I try to incorporate local features into all of the geology/geomorphology lectures. I also try to do mini-labs in class where they break into small groups and look at rock samples, but it is logistically difficult with the class size.

Course Philosophy:

The course design is constantly changing as I evaluate and get feedback from students on what works and what does not. I find one of the most difficult things about teaching at the 2-year college level is the wide range of academic preparedness of students. To deal with that, I try to cover the basics for everyone, but then also discuss specific examples and delve deeper into topics for the more advanced students.


Student performance is assessed solely on quiz and exam grades. Currently, there are 8 quizzes and 4 exams throughout the semester. I am experimenting with optional field trip assignments that I hope to incorporate as a requirement.


Syllabus (Microsoft Word 28kB May7 08)

Teaching Materials:

References and Notes:

Physical Geography: A Landscape Appreciation. McKnight and Hess
I commonly give brief news articles from Science Direct that we then discuss in class.

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