Physical Geology for Non-Majors (actual title is "Our Geologic Environment")

Benjamin Laabs
SUNY Geneseo


This course is intended for non-science majors who have an interest in their physical environment. The course is designed to develop an understanding of the interaction of Earth processes, the environment, and the human population. Topics include Earth materials, natural resources, geologic hazards, environmental change, and global environmental issues.

Course Type: Intro Level:Earth Science Intro Level
Course Size:

Institution Type:
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

This is an introductory course with no pre-requisites. It can substitute for a physical geology course (for majors) for students who decide to become a geology major. The students who take this course are generally taking it to satisfy a general education requirement for natural science.

Course Content:

The course explores numerous general topics in geology, including plate tectonics, Earth materials (minerals and rocks), geologic time, geologic structures, a variety of surface processes and climate change. The course includes a weekly lab in which students spend one-half of the semester learning rocks and minerals in the context of plate tectonics, and one half interpreting geologic and topographic maps.

Course Goals:

Upon successful completion of this course, you will be able to...
1)demonstrate an understanding of the Earth as a system and identify and discuss interactions between the geosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere (specifically those that include humans and their environment).
2)relate different earth-ocean-atmosphere processes to each other in the context of global climate change.
3)discuss the depth of geologic time and the wide range of rates for geologic and environmental processes.
4)extract information from geologic materials (e.g. rock, maps, etc.) and use your observations to
synthesize logical, scientific conclusions.

Course Features:

Many of the learning objectives of this course are assessed weekly lab exercises. Students apply concepts they've learned in lecture and lab on weekly exercises but do not necessarily complete a comprehensive exercise to synthesize course material.

Course Philosophy:

The design of this course is based on developments from numerous faculty in my department, all of who teach the course at least one time per year. The course fits my teaching style because I choose to engage students in lecture and lab settings. I believe that students are eager for stimulation in the classroom and are generally more successful in a class if they are forced to think about the material frequently, not just while preparing for exams.


I have added specific questions about course content to teaching evaluations, and included assessment questions on final exams.


Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 12kB Mar7 08)

Teaching Materials:

Activity description and files for Floods on the Minnesota River
Virtual Earthquake exercise (Acrobat (PDF) 10kB Mar7 08)
Volcano prediction game (PowerPoint 639kB Mar7 08)

References and Notes:

Textbook: Exploring Geology by Reynolds and others
Finger Lakes image gallery
Earth Science World Image Bank
USGS volcanic photo glossary (more info)
USGS sedimentary bedform movies
USGS Real Time Water Data