Honors Physical Geology

Jeffrey A. Nunn
, Louisiana State University


Introduction to Physical Geology using Grotzinger et al. This is an honors section of the course so it is taught at a higher level and more work is required. This class is also certified as communication intensive (written and visual).

Course URL: http://www.geol.lsu.edu/jnunn/1002.1/
Course Type: Intro Level:Physical Geology Intro Level
Course Size:

Course Format:
Students enroll in separate lecture and lab components. The lecture is taught by the professor and the lab is taught by TAs.

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs

Course Context:

This is an introductory course with no pre-requisites. Most students take the course to satisfy a general education requirement. The course has an optional lab. Students must be in the Honors College which requires a 3.5 GPA and an ACT score of above 30.

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 class focuses on earth materials, geologic time, surface processes and the Earth's interior. There is also a short section on resources and environment. There is a field trip to see river processes and weathering. There are also 7 projects which allow students to work on communication skills, critical thinking, and examine some topics in greater depth than are possible in a standard introductory class.

Course Goals:

Students should learn basic information about Earth materials and processes. I want students to be able to gather data, evaluate the source of the information and its quality, use these data to formulate and/or test hypotheses, and present the results of their work in a written or visual format. I also want students to appreciate the Earth as a linked system of processes on a variety of spatial and temporal scales and that human activities are part of that process. Finally, I want students to understand the relevance of geology to their everyday life.

Course Features:

Students complete six individual projects (plate motions, minerals and you, geologic time, geologic hazards, water resources, and 1927 Flood) and one group project where students apply the geology they have learned to important concepts or important aspects of geology in everyday life. To do this, students use maps, published research, and internet information. Each project requires that the students present this information in either a written or visual format.

Course Philosophy:

When I was first assigned to the Honors Section I wanted to challenge these very bright students. I also wanted to move away from just content so I could emphasize critical thinking and communication. These are the most important skills that students learn in college. I also think that geology is very important to everyone. As it is not taught in High School in Louisiana most students don't know anything about it. So LSU's Eco Club focuses on recycling Coke cans rather than vastly more important issues like water resources.


Each project has a grading rubric. I also give essay exams which require students to "explain" basic concepts so that I can see if they understand versus memorize. I also tell my class that what they know or remember a year from the final exam is more important than what they remember on the final exam. I am pleased to get e-mails or postcards from former students who comment on how much they remember about geology.


Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 35kB May7 08)

Teaching Materials:

Presentation about this course (PowerPoint 19.7MB Dec23 08) given at the 2008 AGU meeting

References and Notes:

Course Text: Grotzinger et al., Understanding Earth
This text is comprehensive and detailed. It also includes information on resources and environmental aspects of physical geology.

I also ask students to use internet resources but they must QC them and correctly cite their sources.
I have worked with LSU's Communication across the Curriculum staff to develop rubrics and revise assignments.