Earth and Life (a team-taught 16 credit program combining geology and biology)

Abir Biswas,
The Evergreen State College


This course was a 3-quarter program (F,W,S) with 16 credits per/quarter (because Evergreen has a "block system"). This was a team-taught 16 program (as are most programs at Evergreen) that combined lower division geology and biology. This program had a significant component of undergraduate lower-division research as students worked in the Fall and Winter to develop research proposals that they conducted in the Spring.

Course Size:

Course Format:
Integrated lecture and lab

Institution Type:
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

This is a lower-division course designed to prepare students for subsequent classes in biology and geology. The course integrates lecture, lab, and seminar. Students seeking to continue studies in geology or biology are encouraged to take a subsequent course in general chemistry.

Course Content:

The geology component of this program focused on Physical Geology (rocks and tectonic processes) in the Fall and Environmental Geology (soils, weathering, and climate) in the Winter. Each quarter included 4-5 geology labs (and 4-5 biology labs). The spring quarter focused on 2-3 week long field trips during which students had opportunities to (a study geology and biology in the field and to (b) conduct sample collection and data analysis for student- and faculty-derived research projects.

Course Features:

Students were given content and assessments in 3-4 week blocks through the Fall and Winter quarters. Students wrote research proposals in Winter quarter and conducted lower-division capstone-style student-derived and faculty-derived (group) research projects in the Spring quarter.

Course Philosophy:

My teaching partner and I wanted to team-teach a combined geology and biology program (team-teaching integrated multi-quarter programs is typical at Evergreen). We developed our syllabus and activities to help students develop (1) the foundational knowledge, lab, and field skills to continue to upper-division studies in geology or biology and (2) to develop sufficient skills in our disciplines to conduct interdisciplinary field-based research projects.


Students completed weekly homework assignments, participated in seminar, participated in geology or biology lab, conducted group projects (focusing on components of a research proposal), and completed in-class or take-home examinations.


Teaching Materials:

References and Notes:

Understanding Earth, 6th Edition by J. Grotzinger & T. Jordan, W.H. Freeman and Company, 2010, (ISBN-13 978-1-4292-1951-8)
I like that students find it relatively easy to read and that it includes nice figures to explain geological concepts. I like how it shifts from topics around physical geology in the first half to topics around weathering, climate and earth surface processes in the second half which mirrors the trajectory I have followed in 2-quarter geology programs.

My teaching partner (a biologist) and I place particular importance on students reading studies from the primary literature and we asked them to read 1 or 2 per week.