Teach the Earth > Introductory Courses > Course Descriptions > Evolutions and Extinctions

Evolutions and Extinctions

Alexandra Davatzes
Temple University


Basic geologic principles and the fundamentals of evolutionary thought combine to bring to life the 4.6 billion year story of our planet and its creatures. Through hands-on experience with fossils and rocks, students investigate changes in life through time, and discover how to decipher past environments from the geologic record.

Course Type:
Entry Level Extinction/Evolution

Course Size:

Course Format:

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, primarily masters programs

Course Context:

In your department, do majors and non-majors take separate introductory courses? yes

We are just starting this program, so as yet, they are not much different. We just started the Gen Ed program for non-majors this past year. As the current students phase out, we will convert the intro course to a majors course that will go through the material more in-depth, and hopefully include field trips as the size of the class decreases

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? yes
This course is part of our new General Education program, and this course fulfills the Science and Technology area of the program. Over 65% of the students are freshmen, and a majority of the students are in their first two years of college. As a gen ed course, it is a 3 credit class, so we only have 2 hours of lecture and 2 hours of lab per week. Students who decide to major in geology must take a subsequent course in Intro Geology.

Course Content:

Evolutions and Extinctions focuses on the relationships between biology and geology throughout the history of the Earth. The first half of the class focuses on most of the basic geologic and ecologic concepts in class and lab: Rocks, Minerals, Plate Tectonics, Ecology, Evolution, and Biogeochemical cycles. In the second half of the class we step through the history of the Earth; the lab component has a large emphasis on paleontology, whereas the lecture focuses more on tectonic and climatic changes, and how that has impacted major radiations and extinctions.

Course Goals:

1. Students will be able to describe a variety of ways in which life has affected the Earth, and how geologic events have affected life on the planet.
2. Students will be able to describe different sedimentary environments and ecosystems, and discuss how these have changed through time, and why they have changed.
3. Students will no longer look at a rock as just a rock, but think of it as a clue or part of a story to be told.

Course Features:

Because of the large size of the class, most assessment is through quizes, exams and lab experiences. I am attempting to integrate group discussion and activities, with mixed results.

Course Philosophy:

Mostly working with what was dictated by the Gen Ed program, and trying to work with large numbers of students.


I am evaluating their comfort level with dealing with unknowns as they move through the course. Ultimate assesment is largely through exams, however.


Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 114kB Nov7 08)

References and Notes:

Stanley, Earth System History, 2e
This text was decided on by previous instuctors for the course, and covers most of the topics we like to cover in class. It also has a very nice set of online resources for instructors and students
Gore, Historical Geology Online Lab Manual
The last lab manual was difficult for the students to use. this is not perfect either, but it meets the needs of the instructors and students a bit better.

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