Introduction to Physical Geology

Karen Kortz
, Community College of Rhode Island


This course is an introduction to physical geology, with an emphasis on plate tectonics and the environmental and natural disaster aspects of the subject. It is designed for non-science majors who are meeting their science requirement. It uses many interactive techniques during lecture.

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

Course Format:
Students enroll in one course that includes both lecture and lab. The lecture and the lab are both taught by the professor.

Institution Type:
Two Year College

Course Context:

This is an introductory course with no pre-requisites and does not serve as a prerequisite for other courses. The majority of students take the course to satisfy general education requirements. The course has a required lab.

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? no

Course Content:

This course focuses on plate tectonics and the environmental and natural disaster aspects of physical geology (such as earthquakes, volcanoes, mass movements, flooding, groundwater, and climate change). Students not only learn about rocks, but also why geologist care about rocks. Students also learn how to give effective PowerPoint presentations. Two example activities for this course are Groundwater Consulting Lab and Seafloor Ages Lecture Tutorial.

Course Goals:

Students will be able to predict the geology of an area based on the plate tectonic setting.
Students will be able to explain the Earth's effects on people and people's effects on the Earth.
Students will be able to communicate geologic ideas effectively using PowerPoint.

Course Features:

Students discuss geology with each other in class and lab to become accustomed to communicating science. They give a short PowerPoint presentation on a natural disaster before giving a final one in which they need to research and relate an aspect of geology to how it affects people as part of history, art, or culture.

Course Philosophy:

Although the course is lecture based, there is at least one student-focused activity per lecture. In small groups, the students apply material taught in lecture to answer questions and solve problems in class in lab. In particular, Lecture Tutorial worksheets and Conceptests questions are often used. Overall, more emphasis is placed on concepts and less emphasis is placed on vocabulary.


Students are assessed based on exams, labs, presentations, in-class activities, and a self-reflection paper.


Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 21kB May7 08)

References and Notes:

Course text: The Changing Earth by Monroe and Wicander
It combines both physical and historical geology, so if students take both courses, they do no need to buy separate textbooks.

Pedagogic references:
McConnell, D.A., Steer, D.N., Owens, K.D., Knott, J.R., Van Horn, S., Borowski, W., Dick, J., Foos, A., Malone, M., McGrew, H., Greer, L., and Heaney, P.J., 2006, Using Conceptests to Assess and Improve Student Conceptual Understanding in Introductory Geoscience Courses, Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 54, p. 61-68.

Adams, J.P., Prather, E.E., and Slater, T.F., 2003, Lecture-Tutorials for Introductory Astronomy (Preliminary Edition), New Jersey, Pearson Education, Inc.

Prather, E.E., Slater, T.F., Adams, J.P., Bailey, J.M., Jones, L.V., and Dostal, J.A., 2004, Research on a Lecture-Tutorial Approach to Teaching Introductory Astronomy for Non-Science Majors, The Astronomy Education Review, v. 3, p. 122-136.

Kortz, K.M., Smay, J.J. and Murray, D.P, 2008, Increasing Learning in Introductory Geoscience Courses Using Lecture Tutorials, Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 56, in press.