Glacial & Pleistocene Geology

Kelsey Winsor

University of Wisconsin-Madison
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs


During this course, we examine how glaciers and ice sheets move, why they form the landscapes they do, and what has characterized the geology of the Pleistocene period. Throughout the term, we focus on thinking and writing scientifically.

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Course Context:

This is an upper-level geoscience elective course taken primarily by geoscience and geological engineering majors. Prerequisites for the course are simply one introductory class in geoscience or physical geography. The course is an elective, and does not serve as a prerequisite for higher-level courses. A weekly two-hour lab and one two-day field trip are required course components.

Course Goals:

  • Students should be able to explain why glaciers and ice sheets move the way that they do, and interpret the environmental factors influencing that movement.
  • Students should be able to identify erosional and depositional landforms associated with ice sheets and glaciers, and interpret how the landforms developed.
  • Students should be able to explain the causes of glacial-interglacial cycles and analyze proxies that can be used to study Pleistocene climate changes.

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

We spend about a third of the semester on each of the above three course goals. Several labs, a writing assignment, and daily, in-class, formative assessments are associated with each goal. At the end of the semester, three class days focusing on different regions help tie glacial movement, glacial landforms, and Pleistocene climate together.

Skills Goals

Formal writing on geologic topics

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

About one third of the course grade is determined by writing assignments that incorporate reading of geologic literature.


Daily, formative assessments were assigned. These included short responses to specific questions, think-pair-shares, and longer worksheets to go more in-depth with the scientific thinking behind certain topics. Responses were given full credit if an attempt was made, and composed 10% of the course grade.

Weekly laboratory exercises composed 20% of the final grade, and were corrected by a teaching assistant. Three exams—two mid-terms and a cumulative final—made up 30% of the final grade, and were composed of multiple-choice, short answer, and diagraming questions. One field trip was mandatory, and a full 5% toward the course grade was earned if attended.

Three writing assignments, each including a draft, peer-review, and final paper, were required. The first assignment was simply to write an abstract for a scientific paper. The second assignment was to summarize a scientific paper in 1-2 pages. The final assignment required summary and analysis of a more complex scientific paper, and was 3-4 pages long.


Glacial & Pleistocene Geology syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 106kB Jul8 13)