Teach the Earth > Course Design > Course Goals/Syllabus Database > Introduction to the Geosciences

Introduction to the Geosciences

Leslie Reid

University of Calgary
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs


This course focuses on physical geology. The course focuses on 5 Big Ideas including Plate Tectonics, The Rock Cycle, Geologic Time, Geoscience Research and Scientific Thinking. There are also four skills that are emphasized throughout the course including: rock and mineral identification, map reading, using geoscience terminology, assessing the credibility of scientific information. These concepts and skills are covered in the lecture and lab activities of the course.

Course URL:
Subject: Geoscience:Geology
Resource Type: Course Information:Goals/Syllabi
Grade Level: College Lower (13-14), Introductory Level
Course Type: Intro Level:Physical Geology
Earth System Topics: Solid Earth
Theme: Teach the Earth:Teaching Environments:Intro Geoscience
Course Size:

greater than 150

Course Context:

There are multiple sections of this course offered every fall semester, with approximately 200 students per section. Students attend three 50-minute classes per week and one 3-hour lab per week.

Course Goals:

The learning goals for this course are organized around the Big Ideas. They are framed from the perspective of student understandings.

Plate Tectonics: students will understand that.....
a) The theory of plate tectonics explains the large-scale motion of the Earth's lithosphere.
b) Observable geologic phenomena are the result of tectonic processes.
c) The theory of plate tectonics is used to interpret the Earth's rock record.
d) Plate boundaries have changed throughout Earth history.
e) Plate tectonics provides a framework from which future geological events can be predicted

Rock Cycle: students will understand that....
a) A record of past geologic processes is preserved in the rock record.
b) Rocks form, change and re-form through geologic processes.
c) Active rock cycle processes are used to explain the rock record: "The Present is the Key to the Past"

Geologic Time: students will understand that...
a) Many geologic processes take place over millions and billions of years.
b) The rock record preserves billions of years of Earth history.
c) Geologists can determine the timing of geologic events using numerical age dating techniques.

Geoscience Research: students will understand that...
a) Geoscientists use repeatable observations and testable ideas to understand and explain Earth processes.
b) Geoscientists assess uncertainty in observations and interpretations and use this to generate new questions and hypotheses to test.
c) The scientific research is a messy, complicated and non-linear process
d) Seeking evidence to support or disprove multiple plausible explanations of a geologic phenomenon is used to develop models of Earth processes.

Scientific Thinking: students will understand that...
a) Interpretations of geologic processes and geologic histories from the rock record are determined through, recording, assessing and relating observations.
b) Interpretations may be revised with additional observations.

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

Course activities include lecture learning assessments, lab activities, research reading activities, midterm and final exams.

The learning assessment and lab activities occur almost weekly during scheduled class/lab time. The goals of these assessments and labs is to provide students with an opportunity to apply their skills and knowledge to a problem, case study or activity. Feedback is provided to students the following week allowing students and instructors to assess students' understanding.

There is a midterm lecture and lab test as well as a final lecture and lab exam.

Informal assessment of students' understanding occurs in each class through think-pair-share activities and class discussions.

Skills Goals

Skills emphasized in the course include:
  • Rock and mineral identification
  • Distinguishing between observation and interpretation
  • Map (topographic and geologic) drawing and interpretation
  • Reading and summarizing scientific research papers
  • Metacognition

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

These skills are emphasized in the laboratory activities in the course. Lab activities occur weekly, in small groups (~20 students) with the aid of a graduate student teaching assistant. Students work is graded and feedback is provided to them one week after a laboratory exercise is completed.

Metacognitive skills are emphasized in the learning assessment feedback activities. These activities require students to reflect on their understanding, identify areas for improvement and explore learning strategies that will help their learning.


Student learning is formally assessed through learning assessments, lab assignments, test and exams. A breakdown of these assessments is given below.

Learning Assessments - 5 throughout the semester - 15% of final grade
Lab Assignments - 8 throughout the semester - 20 % of final grade
Reading Assignments - 3 throughout the semester - 5% of final grade
Lecture Midterm test - 1 during the semester - 10% of final grade
Lab Midterm tests - 1 during the semester - 10% of final grade
Lecture Final exam - 20% of final grade
Lab Final exam - 20% of final grade


Course Syllabus (Microsoft Word 164kB Jun27 12)