Teach the Earth > Introductory Courses > Course Descriptions > Physical Geology

Physical Geology

Stacey Cochiara,
New Jersey City University


Introductory study of the materials, structure, and surface features of the earth; the processes responsible for their development; the physical and chemical processes that operate to modify them; the concept of geologic time; and the application of geologic knowledge to human environmental and resource problems. Hands on exercises in identification of rock types and minerals.

Course Type:
Entry Level Physical Geology

Course Size:

Institution Type:
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

Students enrolled in this course are generally not majors. Most (75%) are fulfilling a general education requirement. Of the remaining stduents, about 5% are geoscience majors. There is an in class lab component, this is not considered an additional course.

Course Content:

This Physical Geology course introduces students to many aspects of our Earth. The first part of the course is dedicated to understanding rock types and the environments in which they are formed. The second half covers several topics vital to an understanding of geology, including rivers, deserts, glaciers, relative dating, and regional geology.

Course Goals:

To understand physical geology through knowledge of rudimentary concepts framed within the context of the different areas of specialization in the geological sciences (mineralogy, petrology, sedimentology, geomorphology, structural geology, geophysics, seismology, quaternary geology, and hydrogeology). This class will discuss and apply basic concepts of physical geology. Specific topics will include an introduction to plate tectonics, rocks and minerals, volcanoes, weathering and soils, mass wasting, surficial processes- rivers, groundwater, glaciers and shorelines, the structure of the earth- earthquakes, mountain belts, and a brief explanation of the earth's energy and mineral resources.

Course Features:

This introductory course has a very strong laboratory component. There are labs associated with most topics covered. This is particularly critical since many students enrolled in the course are education majors, and are interested in learning how to convey this information in a hands-on format. Two example activities include Hometown Geology and Observations and Measurements in Geology.

Course Philosophy:

Having a large part of the course be in a lab format allows students to develop more critical thinking skills and independence than simply feeding them information.


This is largely done with grading of assignments and assessment of what has been learned from the laboratory activities.


Syllabus (Microsoft Word 57kB Mar7 08)

References and Notes:

The online text book (A password is required for full access, but a free preview is available.)