World Natural Environments

Camille Holmgren
, Buffalo State College


This is an introductory physical geography course that explores the dynamics of the earth's physical environment including the atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere and the linkages between these spheres. The course also emphasizes human-environmental interaction and perceptions of environmental hazards and resources.

Course Type: Intro Level:Physical Geography Intro Level
Course Size:

Course Format:
Integrated lecture and lab

Institution Type:
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

This is an introductory course with no pre-requisites. Typically, >90% of students take this course to satisfy a natural science general education requirement and are non-majors. This course is also required for the Geography major, Geography minor, and Meteorology and Climatology minor.

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:

The course focuses on four main themes:
  1. characteristics and global patterns of weather and climate, living-organism environment systems, and surface-relief
  2. biogeography
  3. plate tectonics, geomorphology, and surface processes
  4. the influence of human activities and global warming on the earth system

Course Goals:

By the end of the semester, students should be able to
  1. explain why we have seasons,
  2. describe the role of solar energy and its input, loss, and redistribution in creating weather phenomena and climate patterns,
  3. distinguish between major climate and biome types and their geographic distributions, and explain the reasons for their varying distributions,
  4. understand the structure and composition of the earth and describe the role of plate tectonics in global volcanic and earthquake activity,
  5. appreciate the vulnerability of humans to natural hazards,
  6. identify key landforms that exist on earth and describe the key processes shaping each of these including weathering and mass wasting and coastal, fluvial, and glacial processes.

Course Features:

This course includes lectures, lab activities (~10), group work, and group discussions.

Course Philosophy:

I think one of the best ways to foster an understanding of science is to give students hands-on classroom experiences, so when developing my course materials, I try to include a variety of active learning labs and small group activities that reinforce the concepts learned in lecture and engage students in their learning process. These materials are also designed to foster problem solving skills and oral and written communication proficiency. Likewise, when planning materials, I recognize that learning styles vary greatly and I have tried to employ a mixture of lecture, laboratory, and collaborative activities that foster an inclusive classroom and build teamwork skills as students share ideas and strive towards common goals.


I use a variety of assessment tools including exercises, oral presentations, written assignments, exams, and surveys.


Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 111kB May7 08)

Teaching Materials:

See an activity sheet for a homework assignment on tectonics, earthquakes and volcanoes.

References and Notes:

Geosystems - Christopherson
This text has great graphics, which is important because the material is so visual. It also has more complete and clear explanations than some of the other textbooks that I have examined.