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

Physical Geology

Peter Copeland
, University of Houston


This is a survey of a broad spectrum of geology. We have majors in the class so there are certain things I think we need to cover but mostly I like to give a flavor of the big topics in geology and how a scientist thinks about problems.

Course Type:
Entry Level Physical Geology

Course Size:

Course Format:
Students enroll in separate lecture and lab components. The lecture is taught by the professor and the lab is taught by TAs.

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs

Course Context:

This course is the most popular science course for non-science majors in the university (but this is also a required course for majors). The range of majors covers almost the entire university (with the exception of very few engineers). The course has a separate and optional lab.

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:

A broad range of geology including the formation of the solar system, minerals, rocks, geologic time, tectonics, streams, glaciology, atmospheric chemistry, and the formation of gas and oil. I generally skip deserts.

Course Goals:

I want the students to understand what are the major issues addressed by geologists and what it means to evaluate a problem like a scientist.

Course Features:

I guess the only feature of the course is me, the instructor. I take a lot of time to convince the students that the best way to learn is to ask questions. I make it clear to them that I don't care how many chapters we finish in the book. If they ask questions, I'll answer.

Course Philosophy:

I didn't really choose it. The way I teach the course is the way I have become comfortable with after 18 years and 4000 students. The top third of the class seems to really like my style and I have found there isn't much I can do for the bottom third of the class that won't disturb the top third.


I give four tests and a final. I will drop the lowest of the four tests but not the final. The final is comprehensive and mandatory. I use a point system in which 450 total points are possible. It takes 335 points (74%) to get an A and 200 points (44%) to pass the course.


Syllabus (Microsoft Word 46kB May19 08)

References and Notes:

Course text: Tarbuck and Lutgens
This is a committee choice. We have several sections of the class and we have agreed to all use the same book.

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