Teach the Earth > Introductory Courses > Course Descriptions > Dynamic Earth

Dynamic Earth

Anne Egger
Stanford University


Students on a local field trip
Students in the introductory course "Dynamic Earth" on a field trip to the coast. Details
Dynamic Earth is an activity-based introductory course. The course focuses on the fundamentals of earth processes to help students begin to understand the geologic processes that influence the landscape around them, the kinds of ongoing research in the many sub-disciplines of the earth sciences, and the relationships between earth processes and current social issues.

Course Type:
Entry Level Earth Science

Course Size:

Course Format:
Integrated lecture and lab

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs

Course Context:

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 is a required course for all students who major in Geological and Environmental Sciences, Geophysics, Earth Systems, and Energy Resources Engineering, as well as for students who major in several other engineering programs. It is also taken by many students for whom it is not required out of interest or to fulfill a science requirement. It has no prerequisites and is intended to recruit students into the various majors in the Earth sciences.

Course Content:

The content covered in this course is typical of that in a traditional physical geology course, with two important differences: first, the emphasis is on Bay Area and California geology, and second, there is simply less content due to the reality of teaching an activity-based course in a ten-week quarter. Specifically, the concepts covered in this class are (roughly in this order) plate tectonics, our local plate boundary (the San Andreas Fault), earthquakes, isostasy, earth structure, the rock cycle, geologic time, igneous rocks, volcanic activity, weathering, streams and sediment, sedimentary rocks, natural resources, metamorphic rocks, large-scale deformation and mountain building, geochronology, California's geologic provinces and history, recent geologic history and climate change, and the future of the earth.

Course Goals:

By the end of this course, students will be able to:
  • Connect earth processes to earth cycles, such as the rock cycle, the tectonic cycle, and the hydrologic cycle, and define the time scales at which different cycle operate
  • Make observations at multiple scales - from satellite images, outcrops, hand samples, microscopic views - and interpret your observations in terms of earth processes
  • Describe the geologic history of a region based on field exposures, maps, cross-sections, rock samples, and photographs
  • Describe and utilize the techniques geoscientists use to learn more about all aspects of the earth


There are nine writing assignments spread throughout the course that address different components of the goals. In addition, there is one exam, which comes near the end, and a final project (see FInal project description (Microsoft Word 37kB Jan4 09)). See syllabus (Microsoft Word 127kB Nov7 08) for the grading breakdown for the course.

The nine writing assignments (including grading rubrics) are:


Syllabus (Microsoft Word 127kB Nov7 08)

Teaching Materials:

References and Notes:

There is no textbook for this course. Most of the readings I assign in the course are from Visionlearning. Additional readings come from Scientific American, websites, and the primary literature. You can see all of the assigned readings in this Reading list (Microsoft Word 35kB Jan7 09).

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