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The Dynamic Earth (Physical Geology)

Kristin Riker-Coleman
University of Wisconsin Superior
Author Profile


Students are introduced to the basic materials of the Earth and the processes that shape them/it. The course covers plate tectonics (including volcanic activities and earthquakes) as well as more the more surficial processes of weathering and erosion, glaciation, and ground and surface water. Students are engaged in active discussion, laboratory exercises and group work during the course of the semester.

Institution Type
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Size


Grade Level
College Lower (13-14):Introductory Level

Course Context

This course is an introductory course, with no prerequisites. I am developing it to teach it online, where it will serve about 50% preservice teachers and 50% nontraditional students. In the classroom (live) it serves approximately 20% preservice teachers. Very few students who take this course claim to have a strong background or interest in geology: most are taking it as a lab science requirement. It serves as a required course in a newly developed Earth Science Minor, however there is no geology major.

Course Content

The online version of this course relies very heavily on student interactions with one another. Discussions are a key component and effectively take the place of the three lectures a week. As with all online courses, the online version of this course relies heavily on a students' ability to obtain information via reading: reading "lecture" pages, reading the textbook, and reading discussion postings.

Course Goals

With the successful completion of this course, students will be able to:
1. Differentiate between rocks and minerals and discuss the physical processes used distinguish them.
2. Utilize physical clues from igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks to determine how they formed.
3. Describe briefly the history of the Solar System and how (and when) a solid Earth formed.
4. Distinguish the internal structure and composition of the Earth.
5. Understand the process of scientific inquiry. Apply this process to published research.
6. Understand the theory of plate tectonics as a unifying theory.
a. Differentiate between the three main kinds of plate boundaries. Describe the geologic processes and resultant geologic features at each type of boundary.
b. Compare different types of magma. Describe the relationship between magma type and resultant landform.
c. Summarize how the tectonic forces lead to changes in the structure of rocks. Identify folds and faults.
d. Explain what an earthquake is and what causes earthquakes. Locate the source and calculate the magnitude of an earthquake, given geologic data.
7. Apply the principles of relative dating to interpret the geologic history of a cross-section. Understand the application of radiometric dating to the geologic time scale.
8. Compare and contrast weathering among different rock types and different environments.
9. Identify and explain the role of the various parts of the hydrologic cycle. Explain the interaction of surface water, groundwater, and the rock materials of the crust.



Teaching Notes

Adaptations have been made that allow this course to be successful in an online environment

The most successful elements of this course are:

Recommendations for faculty who teach a course like this:




Other References

The Dynamic Earth (Physical Geology) --Discussion  

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The Dynamic Earth (Physical Geology) --Discussion  

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