Teach the Earth > Oceanography > Course Descriptions > Oceanography


Laurie Grigg

Norwich University,
Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate


A basic survey of the physical, chemical, and geologic character of the world's oceans. Topics include physical and chemical properties of sea-water, atmospheric and oceanic circulation, the origins and dynamics of waves and tides, plate tectonics and the evolution of ocean basins, ocean sediments, coastal processes and landforms, and marine environmental issues. Course content focuses on both scientific processes and the exploration of how this scientific understanding can be applied to real world oceanographic issues. Labs provide hands-on opportunities in the field and laboratory, where students investigate oceanographic principles and processes through the scientific method.

Subject: Geoscience:Oceanography
Resource Type: Course Information
Grade Level: College Lower (13-14)
Theme: Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Oceanography, Teach the Earth:Teaching Environments:Intro Geoscience
Earth System Topics: Oceans
Course Size:

Course Context:

This is an introductory course with no prerequisites, although many students who take this class have also had Introduction to Geology. The course satisfies the general education requirement for a 4-credit lab science course. The majority (>75%) of students who take this class are social science or humanities majors. This course is also a requirement for Environmental Science majors.

Course Goals:

  1. Students should be able to link the chemical and physical properties of water molecules to properties of sea-water, such as density, temperature, heat capacity, salinity, and gas saturation.
  2. Students should be able to use batymetric maps to interpret ocean landforms in the context of plate tectonics and sea-level change.
  3. Students should be able to create bathymetric maps and cross-sections.
  4. Students should be able to predict ocean currents (both surface and vertical) based on global atmospheric circulation patterns, the Coriolis Effect, surface friction, and water density.
  5. Students should be able to link water depth, wind speed, duration, and fetch to wave height and energy and predict how these factors affect the coastline and the distribution of ocean sediments.
  6. Students should be able to interpret tidal patterns based on both the equilibrium and dynamic tidal theories.
  7. Students should be able to collect field and lab data and to analyze the data using graphs and basic statistics and calculations.
  8. Students should be able to present field and lab methods, results, and interpretations in a technical report.
  9. Students should be able to assess the impacts of humans on ocean systems.

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

The material in the course builds from basic concepts such as Earth-Sun geometry and water properties to larger concepts such as plate tectonics and tidal analysis. Students are always having to make connections between these fundamentals and the oceans. Labs including a 5-week field project on a frozen lake is.

Skills Goals

  • Quantitative abilities
  • Peer-teaching
  • Working in groups
  • Connecting science with real-world events

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

  • For quantitative abilities we do in-class activities looking a graphs and interpreting data. But lab exercises are the main way this happens.
  • Peer-teaching and working in groups happens during in-class activities, group quizzes, and labs.
  • Connecting science with the real-world gets addressed by incorporating case studies on energy-related topics such as methane hydrates and offshore oil-drilling into lectures. We also do two online discussions, which focus on exploring these relevant ocean issues.

Attitudinal Goals

  • Building confidence in math and science
  • Increase general knowledge and love for the Earth
  • Increase appreciation for the relevance and importance of science outside of the classroom.

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

Building confidence takes time and seems to have multiple ups and downs as the semester progresses. I mostly try to create a classroom culture of acceptance and effort - no one needs or should know everything but everyone should be trying. As students see that trying is rewarded with doing well, they continue to try and somewhere along the way some of them realize that they actually understand the material.

I am very enthusiastic about the natural world - they think I am strange sometimes but mostly they think it is cool that I love geology so much.


The standard tests and quizzes for lecture content. Adding a group component to the quizzes was a great improvement. Another strategy I use is to give an exam essay question ahead of time so that I am able to ask a question that test their ability to make connections and not just memorize terms. Labs are graded and count for 35% of their grade.


Introduction to Oceanography Syllabus (Microsoft Word 88kB May24 13)

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