Teach the Earth > Introductory Courses > Course Descriptions > Physical Geology

Physical Geology

Maggie Zimmerman
, St. Paul College


This course introduces students to rocks and minerals, geologic time, global tectonics and other earth processes. Field simulations and exercises provide students with the framework for rock and mineral identification, mapping, model interpretations, and process visualization.

Course Type:
Entry Level:Physical Geology Entry Level

Course Size:

Course Format:
Integrated lecture and lab

Institution Type:
Two Year College

Course Context:

This is an introductory course which fulfills a Natural Science requirement as well as a People and the Environmental requirement. It is one of seven Natural Science classes offered and is new to the course catalog this year. 100% of students who take this course do so to fulfill the NatSci requirement on their way to an AA degree.

In your department, do majors and non-majors take separate introductory courses? no
Intro courses each cover many of the basics of earth science, but each has a different spin depending on the focus of the course (e.g. Earth Science, Natural Disasters, Physical Geology, Intro Oceanography).

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 Physical Geology course focuses on the fundamentals of Geology including rocks and minerals, plate tectonics, geologic time, surface processes, geologic hazards, global climate change, and energy and mineral resources. Several lab activities are incorporated into lectures which attempt to illustrate concepts and processes from the text and lecture.

Course Goals:

Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:

1) Identify basic minerals and rocks in hand sample and thin section

2) Explain the rock cycle

3) Identify and classify plate boundaries using topography and bathymetry maps, along with earthquake and volcano data

4) Identify geologic hazards and mitigation techniques

5) Explain the mechanisms involved in global climate change

6) Explain several ways that humans extract energy from the earth or from earth processes

7) Read and interpret topographic maps

8) Identify several geologic features and explain the likely events that led to their present state

9) Demonstrate an understanding of how scientific theories are formed and how they evolve through time

10) Explain several current issues geologic issues and how they relate to human activity/human welfare (e.g. subsidence in New Orleans, melting glaciers, etc)

When students leave this class I would like them to be more comfortable with science in general and have gained greater confidence in their ability to "do" science.

Course Features:

Throughout the semester, students must collect three current articles they find in the media (newspaper, magazine, journal, etc), write a short summary of the information, along with their thoughts on the piece.

Course Philosophy:

The design of this course attempts to cater to students with very little background and very little confidence in the scientific area. I want to foster an environmental where students can feel comfortable and excited about science rather than overwhelmed and ill equipped, so I try to begin slowly with very basic and concrete material, and slowly introduce to more complex concepts before turning them loose to write a short paper on a geologic topic.


Students will be graded on their participation, in-class activities/labs, article summaries, and two exams. There will also be an anonymous questionnaire given at the beginning and end of the course that asks students to rate their ability to perform several tasks and to rate their understanding of various issues in Physical Geology.

References and Notes:

Earth: An Introduction to Physical Geology (Tarbuck and Lutgens, 9th Ed)
I like the order of the topics covered in the book, and the fact that it contains many pictures and diagrams which help my ELS students grasp concepts.