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Introduction to Physical Geology

Kathleen Harper
University of Montana


This course is an introduction to geoscience; the study of how the Earth works. Humans around the world are impacted every day by geologic phenomena, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and also by access to natural resources such as oil, metals, and water. I hope that students will develop a new appreciation of the natural world, an understanding of the physical processes that have gone into making the Earth as we know it, and an awareness of how Montana fits into the global picture. We will also delve into the nature of science: what is science?; what is the process of science involve?; what defines "good" science? This knowledge will help students make informed decisions about issues that affect humankind. Course enrollment is two sections of about 200 per semester. Lab sections are about 25 students.

Course Size:
greater than 150

Course Format:
Students enroll in separate lecture and lab components. The lecture is taught by the professor and the lab is taught by TAs.

Course Context:

This is an introductory course taken by majors and non-majors. Many students take this course to meet a General Education science requirement. The lab section is optional, but is needed by most students to fulfill lab science requirement. This course is designed to provide an overview of geosciences.


Because of the large class size, assessment is primarily by multiple choice exams. Questions regarding the process of science are included on these exams. Students also use clickers in class - these are used to provide formative assessment regarding student ideas and misconceptions about science and feedback on in-class exercises. Clicker points typically make up about 10-15% of the course grade. Students also complete reading quizzes on the Blackboard site.


Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 30kB Jun12 12)

Teaching Materials:

References and Notes:

  • Textbook: Essentials of Geology, Stephen Marshak, 3rd Edition, Norton, 2009
  • In-house lab manual, K. Harper
  • Other resources may be posted on the Moodle course supplement site.