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

Physical Geology

Mark F. Wood
, Jefferson Community and Technical College (KCTCS)


A first course in the principles of physical geology, including study of minerals and rocks, volcanoes and earthquakes, plate tectonics and the landforms of the Earth's surface. It requires concurrent enrollment in GLY 111; Lab course that is an introduction to the identification of minerals and rocks in hand specimens, interpretation of landscape features as shown on topographic maps, an introduction to geologic maps and the processes that shape the earth.

Course Type:
Entry Level Physical Geology

Course Size:

Course Format:
Students enroll in one course that includes both lecture and lab. The lecture and the lab are both taught by the professor.

Institution Type:
Two Year College

Course Context:

This is an introductory course with no pre-requisites. 90% of the students take this course to satisfy their general education science with a lab requirement. The lab is required. The college is a community college and as such I get a range of students from college-bound advanced high school seniors taking this as an 'AP' course since their high school does not have such to 67 year old retirees interested in a 'fun' course. I get janitors to geniuses.

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:

This course reinforces the students' ability to read and listen with comprehension, and to speak and write clearly in English. The course encourages the students to interact cooperatively with others by promoting discussion groups and group lab work. The students use mathematics to organize, analyze, and synthesize data to solve problems. In Physical Geology labs the student will draw on a variety of search strategies and resource material to find, evaluate, and use geologic data and information. From the development of these skills, the students will be able to apply their learning of the physical sciences to other academic, personal or public situations and recognize the relationship of an individual to the culture and the world around them. In other words, you'll never look at a rock, a mountain or a beach - or human's impact on various geologic settings like these - in the same way again.

The course also teaches a number of problem-solving skills. As the course progresses, the student will interpret, analyze, summarize and integrate various geologic concepts. Students are taught to make connections in learning across disciplines (i.e. Chemistry, Math, Biology and Physics) and then draw logical conclusions from various exercises. Throughout the course the students are challenged to demonstrate an awareness of the relationship of the individual to the biological and especially the physical environment around them – in the present day as well as comparing and contrasting with the geologic past. By becoming aware of the physical and biological processes that change the world, and human relationships with those processes, the student develops an awareness of how individuals and humans fit into the global community.

I have 2 or 3 optional field trips that go to local quarries, caves, outcrops, streams and various local geologic settings and museums. I touch on the process and techniques of geologic field observations but mostly I reinforce the classroom experience.

Course Goals:

After completing this class students should be familiar with the commonly used vocabulary and terminology of Physical Geology as provided by the course. Students should be able to explain the processes that have formed and shaped the earth and the operation of those processes. Students should be able to explain the origin of some of our most important resources and how they relate to Geology. Students should be able to cite major pieces of evidence and explain the logic or reasoning geologists have used to reach their current understanding of the earth.

Course Features:

I utilize fairly standard course features. A few things I do that students seem to respond to is that I spend time working with students note taking and study skills. Some homework assignments are designed to help them capture exactly what I was trying to get across to them. I try to model the skills for them that will aid in their other classes.

Having identified that many students do not come with skill sets and work habits that could assist their learning, I gave extra credit to encourage students to take JCTC Learning workshops, which in turn improved the students' skill sets for this and other classes. Note taking homework exercises improve the students' skills and I maintain a pulse on the students' recognition of key geologic concepts and receive feedback on my lecture content from the students.

Course Philosophy:

It seems to work for me and most students seem to respond well to the course. I keep making adjustments and actively seek to better approach this new generation of learners and adapt to technological advances.


Student assessment is completed by a combination of examinations, quizzes, homework assignments and classroom participation.


Syllabus (Microsoft Word 53kB Jul8 08)

References and Notes:

Essentials of Geology, Lutgens and Tarbuck
Its organization, format and flow work well. It has good illustrations and I think it's the right depth for my students.
I also use blackboard to support the course.

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