Physical Geology

Kenneth L. Howard
, Wake Technical Community College


This course provides a study of the structure and composition of the Earth's crust. Emphasis is placed on weathering, erosional and depositional processes, mountain building forces, rocks and minerals, and structural forces. Upon completion, students should be able to explain the structure, composition, and formation of the Earth's crust.

Course Type: Intro Level:Physical Geology Intro Level
Course Size:

Course Format:
Integrated lecture and lab

Institution Type:
Two Year College

Course Context:

This is a 4.0 credit introductory science course with integrated lecture and laboratory. Most students take the course to help fulfill a college requirement for two science courses to complete an AA degree. After successful completion, students who become interested in the course can take Historical or Environmental Geology courses.

In your department, do majors and non-majors take separate introductory courses? no

If students take a "non-majors" course, and then decide to become a major, do they have to go back and take an additional introductory course? yes

Course Content:

The goals of Physical Geology are to provide students with:
  1. An understanding and appreciation of physical geology.
  2. The knowledge necessary to describe the processes that have shaped the Earth's landforms including mountains, canyons, glacial regions, rivers, and beaches.
  3. A knowledge base, so that hazardous geologic processes, such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, will be viewed with greater understanding.
  4. An increased awareness of our planet and the dependence of humans on finite geologic resources.
  5. The knowledge necessary to appreciate the history of the Earth, both its physical history and biological history, is recorded in the minerals, rocks, and landforms that compose the Earth.
  6. A forum for discussion of current topics in geology.

Course Goals:

At the conclusion of the course, students will be able to:
  1. Define selected vocabulary from the assigned chapters and employ them in understanding and explaining topics.
  2. Summarize how the Solar System and the solid Earth first formed. Cite evidence for the currently accepted age of the Earth.
  3. Discuss the basic principles of scientific inquiry and apply them to current research and to past discoveries of theories.
  4. Differentiate between the three types of plate boundaries by noting common geologic features and processes. Summarize how these boundaries form.
  5. Classify common physical properties and differentiate minerals and rocks.
  6. Summarize the relationship between the chemical and physical properties of minerals.
  7. Analyze igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks to determine how they formed.
  8. Compare how different types of magma form and explain their relationship to the formation of intrusive and volcanic igneous features.
  9. Compare and contrast weathering among different rock types and different environments.
  10. Identify strata, faults, and folds in geologic sections and summarize the forces and tectonic settings that lead to their formation.
  11. Apply the principles of relative dating to interpret the geologic history of a cross-section. Understand the application of radiometric dating to the geologic time scale.
  12. Explain what causes earthquakes and earthquake destruction, and apply the correct procedures to locate the source and calculate the magnitude of an earthquake.
  13. Differentiate the internal structure and composition of the Earth.
  14. Compare and contrast depositional and erosional environments, features, and processes associated with streams and shorelines.
  15. Explain the various parts of the hydrologic cycle including the interaction of surface and groundwater with the solid Earth.
  16. Evaluate the risks associated with geologic hazards.

Course Features:

The course is based on seated lectures and weekly laboratories. Lectures are used to highlight critical elements of the text and for open discussion of topics pertinent to student's daily lives. Laboratories are selected and scheduled to coincide with and supplement the lectures and text. Metamorphism and Continental Collision is an example laboratory activity. Toward the end of the semester students must complete a paper designed to address geologic concerns in the public policy arena and make recommendations for their solution.

Course Philosophy:

I have adopted this format based on prior experiences teaching professionals in industry settings. I enjoy giving focused lectures where students are able to interact and discuss topics that are relevant to their own experiences.


Students are assessed based on their performance in five major aspects of the course:
4 Semester Unit Tests
4 Unit Vocabulary Quizzes
Cumulative Final Exam
Current Events/Geology Paper
Laboratory Exercises and classroom assignments


Syllabus (Microsoft Word 109kB May7 08)

Teaching Materials:

Class handout to assist students on plate tectonics (PowerPoint 20kB May7 08)
Class exercise for studying volcanoes (PowerPoint 18kB May7 08)
Study Guide Handout (PowerPoint 20kB May7 08)

References and Notes:

Course text:
Exploring Geology, Reynolds, Johnson, Kelly, Morin, and Carter
Presentation format is excellent for visual learners. The text utilizes of two-page spreads to comparmentalize topics. The structure of the book and the need for students to answer questions as they read the material fits with our program to promote critical thinking.

Lab manual:
Geology 120 - Physical Geology Laboratory Manual, Leinbach, Bartek, Howard, Lamb, Miller, and Rollins
The laboratory manual is generated by the faculty and published by the college. The manual is revised each summer to reflect changes in goals and objectives for the course and to add new or better materials.

Students are referred to the publisher's website where they have access to additional course materials that support the text. Additionally, the publisher's website permits students to access other geology texts and their supporting data.