The Earth: Its Physical Environment

Suki Smaglik

Central Wyoming College


Covering topics in Earth Science including geology, astronomy, oceanography and meteorology, this course is directed toward K-8 pre-service teachers. It is also open to any non-science majors as a lab science elective, but cannot be used toward a degree in natural science. Lab and lecture are integrated around current topics, and when offered in summer, is held in conjunction with a required non-majors mathematics course in problem solving.

Course Type: Intro Level Earth Science
Course Size:

Course Format:
Integrated lecture and lab

Institution Type:
Two Year College

Course Context:

This is an introductory course that requires a pre-college mathematics level and is a pre-requisite for an educational methods in earth science course. Typically, 60% of the students are pre-service K-8 education major (who concurrently enroll in an earth science teaching methods course) while the rest are non-science majors taking the class for a general education requirement. This course is not allowed toward graduation with a science major. Any student taking the course and deciding to change their major to a science field must take a different course. If they decide to major in Earth & Environmental Science they must take either Physical Geology or Historical Geology. This course is cross-listed as ASTR/GEOL but that is an ancient artifact. Students may not receive credit for taking the class twice under different departments.

In your department, do majors and non-majors take separate introductory courses?
The answer is really "yes" AND "no". This course is intended for Elem Ed majors but other non-science majors can take it for a lab science elective. This course cannot be used toward graduation with a natural science degree. GEOL 1100 Physical Geology and GEOL 1200 Historical Geology are both intended for majors but can be taken by non-majors and a lab science elective. They all cover slightly different topics but contain a lot of overlap.

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:

This course is a broad introductory-level course in earth and space science, covering topics from physical and historical geology, meteorology, oceanography, planetary astronomy and stellar astronomy. It illustrates fundamental concepts, processes, products, and the relationships between selected topics and society. The lab and lecture are integrated in order to maximize the opportunities to learn outside. A full-day field trip is required.

Course Goals:

- To help the student understand why science is important and how the scientific method can be applied to their lives.
- To excite the student about the world around us.
- To help the student gain a better understanding of the way Earth works and its place in the Universe.
- To explain earth science in an integrated format that allows the student to develop critical thinking skills.
- To encourage the student to become an informed and responsible citizen of our planet.

Course Features:

The integrated lab and lecture allow the course to focus on guided inquiry based exercises, many of which will be held outside, weather permitting. Since this course has such a broad topic range, none of the topics is covered in great detail. Rather, they are used as examples of how science is done and why its important to our society. Two example activities are Navigation Unit and Wind River Eco-Challenge: A Virtual Excursion Exercise for Introducing Topographic Maps. A final team (2-3 student) project is presented as a poster at the end of the semester. This allows the students to get more in-depth on one topic of interest. The poster session usually revolves around a class-selected central theme such as climate change or energy resources.

Course Philosophy:

This course is designed around being outside and in touch with Earth as much as possible. The reason students usually choose this course over other offerings is because of their interest in the local geology. Over the years, students have become less interested in listening and more interested in doing. This course accommodates the hands-on learner.


The use of Reading Questions enhances the discussion in class. These are easily graded on-line before class so that problem areas can be identified. A unit test consisting of a variety of question types, including essays is given at least three time a semester. A comprehensive final exam using questions from previous tests helps them retain the information throughout the semester and beyond. Weekly questions cards require the student to think beyond what they are learning, giving them the chance to become better thinkers. Lab quizzes make them responsible for learning the lab exercises rather than just following their partners.


Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 143kB May7 08)

Teaching Materials:

Topics list (Acrobat (PDF) 42kB May7 08)
Activity sheet for a topographic map activity
Activity sheet for a unit on maps and navigation

References and Notes:

I use my own lab exercises, some borrowed from texts but there is not one that I used enough to justify the cost to the student.
Earth Science Made Simple by Edward F. Albin, Broadway, ISBN 978-0767917032, $12.95
Astronomy Made Simple by Kevin B. Marvel, Broadway, ISBN 978-076791049, $12.95