Geology of the National Parks
Melissa (Lisa) Lamb
, University of St. Thomas
This is an introductory physical geology course for 64-100 mainly non-science students that uses the National Parks as the focus. Modules are built around a geology theme, such as structure or sedimentary rocks, and use 2-3 parks as examples.
Entry Level Physical Geology Course Size
Students enroll in one course that
includes both lecture and lab. The lecture is taught by the
professor and the lab is taught by TAs.
Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate
Typically, 100% of the students are taking it only to fulfill the requirement and avoid the "hard and/or scary science courses." A handful will discover they love science and go on to major in geology. Lab sections have 16 students and are required. Our students are from the upper-Midwest and are very career-focused; they often work 15-30 hours/week while attending school and are not used to doing much homework (unless they are science 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? no
This course fulfills the one lab science requirement all students must take.
The modules focus on plate tectonics, rock-forming processes, geologic time, structural geology, geologic history, earth surface processes and global change. Labs are designed to teach basic map reading and rock interpretation skills.
What should you be able to do at the end of the course?
- Go to a new park, read the geo-tourist literature and understand it
- Go to a new park, identify the rocks, and be able to interpret part of the history
- Go to a new park, view the landscape and be able to interpret part of the history and/or identify some of the current processes at work
- Be able to describe some of the current research occurring in the national parks and its importance to society
- Be able to describe how we know the geological history of a new park when reading the literature
I include many short in-class activities that are designed to give students practice in working with new concepts and skills. They are also meant to build upon lab activities. We have 2-3 outdoor labs to local outcrops to practice observation and interpretation skills.
I have always LOVED the National Parks; they made me become a geologist. I had always wanted to teach this course. However, this course is NOT appropriate for my audience: upper-Midwest folks who rarely travel outside of MN. I no longer teach this course and am in the process of designing a new one with more of a focus on MN and business (20% of students major in business). I think this course would work much better if I taught in the West where National Parks are in folks back yards, although I realize few folks anywhere go out into nature.
Through lab and lecture exams mainly; lab activities also.
Syllabus (Microsoft Word 75kB Jun25 08)
Instructor spreadsheet of semester schedule (Excel 57kB Jun25 08)
Example of short in-class activity: Western US plate tectonic recent history (Microsoft Word 49kB Jun25 08)
Short in-class activity on structure: Grand Teton NP map and cross-section (Microsoft Word 2.3MB Jun25 08)
References and Notes:
Course text: Parks and Plates.
There are few National Parks text and this one is the best one available.
In addition, I use in-house developed labs that use local geology and geologic materials from the parks for each module. I bought many sets of geologic maps and cross-sections from the key parks I use and designed activities around those.
I supplement with geology books that have a park focus and are written for the lay person. Wendall Duffield's Chasing Lava is fun to read and incorporates great information and stories about "doing science."
I originally designed the course drawing heavily upon NAGT workshop materials and ideas.