Geology 101- Introductory Geology

Louis Bartek
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


This is an a Physical Geology course that focuses upon geologic processes and features with emphasis on using plate tectonics as an example of the scientific method in practice.

Course Type: Intro Level:Physical Geology Intro Level
Course Size:
greater than 150

Course Format:
Lecture only

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs

Course Context:

This is an introductory course with no pre-requisites. It serves as a prerequisite for more advanced geology courses and it fulfills a college natural science distribution requirement. Students taking the course are from the full spectrum of students at UNC. The course has an optional lab.

In your department, do majors and non-majors take separate introductory courses? yes
Same topics, but the majors course covers them in more depth.

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 geologic processes and features with an emphasis on plate tectonics. Organization of course is to initially familiarize students with the Scientific Method, introduce them to the origin of Earth and to Plate Tectonics. Plate Tectonics is used as an example of how science operates. Students learn how observations lead to development of hypotheses, testing of these hypotheses and evolution of a hypothesis to a Theory. Plate Tectonics is also used as a framework to provide a "big picture" concept of the processes that are responsible for formation and distribution of materials and the large-scale features of Earth's surface. The course finishes with an examination of the processes (Mass Wasting, Hydrologic Cycle- Running Surface Water Groundwater, Ocean and Shorelines) responsible for modifying the topography created by large-scale tectonic processes.

Course Goals:

After successful completion of the course, students will be able to:
1. Describe the Scientific Method, how it operates to generate new knowledge and provide examples of successful and unsuccessful application of the Scientific Method.
2. Identify common igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks and processes associated with creating them.
3. Describe the internal structure and composition of the Earth and processes associated with creating it.
4. Describe how geologists interpret the Earth's history from the rock record.
5. Describe how various processes that have shaped the landscapes on the surface of the earth.
6. Identify geographic locations of examples of various landscaping processes (e.g. Grand Canyon, Sahara Desert, and Mount Saint Helens).
7. Describe the concept of plate tectonics and the geologic processes occurring at the different types of plate margins.
8. Describe the processes that are active in our state from the mountains through the streams to the beaches and how these processes affect our lives.

Course Philosophy:

I choose this particular design because I feel that plate tectonics is a great device to unify observations that to students may appear to be unrelated and random. I also feel that it is an excellent example of the evolution of a hypothesis to a theory and therefore provides students with a concrete example of application of the scientific method. It is important to me that students leave the course with an understanding of how science works and from where scientific knowledge comes and I feel that this approach gives me the best chance to illustrate this. Having said all of that, I am not happy with how it is delivered and feel that I can do a better job of making the course more interactive, but I am not sure how to do this in a large class setting.


I give quizzes and exams.


Syllabus (Microsoft Word 102kB Nov21 08)

References and Notes:

Course text: Exploring Geology (1st Edition), S.J. Reynolds and J.K. Johnson, M.M. Kelly, P.J. Morin, and C.M. Carter, (2008) McGraw Hill Companies, New York, New York, pp. 575.
I like the approach of applying concept sketches, as illustrated in this text.