Interpreting Earth History

Andrew Moore

Earlham College
Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate


Course URL:
Subject: Geoscience:Geology:Structural Geology
Resource Type: Course Information
Grade Level: College Upper (15-16), College Lower (13-14)
Theme: Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Structural Geology
Course Size:

less than 15

Course Context:

Earth History sits as one of our three 300-level "core" courses for our majors (along with Earth Materials and Geochemistry). It requires one introductory geology class as a prerequisite, and nets an equal mix of geology majors, environmental studies majors, and students fulfilling general education.

I've listed it as "structural geology" because it's the part of our curriculum where structural geology and interpreting geologic maps is introduced (it's then reinforced in Structural and synthesized in Tectonics and Geophysics). It's also the class I teach--the upper level structural is taught by our structural geologist...

Course Goals:

1. Students should be able to give a brief account of major events in Earth's history, and explain how these events affect life today.

2. Students should be able to interpret Earth history from a geologic map.

3. Students should be able to formulate a plan for analyzing an unfamiliar outcrop, and should be able to interpret geologic history from data gathered at that outcrop.

4. Students should be able to keep a geologic notebook in a manner that allows other geologists to understand their work.

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

Goal one is woven throughout the course; students learn primarily from each other in a short lecture format (and I choose what topics they lecture on!). I fell down on assessment this year (see "evaluation" at end of syllabus), but have traditionally used short essay exams.

Goal two is handled primarily in a series of labs at the beginning of the course--we start with stratigraphic columns and rock descriptions, and work through geologic maps to interpreting geologic history from geologic maps in a series of two projects of increasing complexity. There's often a map interpretation on the final (in previous years).

Goals three and four are handled in a field project on interpreting the history of the area for the back half of the semester. It's not assessed as well as I'd like.

Skills Goals

I try to focus on oral communication and peer teaching in this class. Writing is a secondary goal, especially in focusing on short, concise writing.

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

I use an off-the-rack matrix for evaluating the talks that make up the bulk of content delivery in this class. Each student fills out a matrix for each talk, and I synthesize the comments and send back a summary. Grading is DTWS style--50% of the grade is from student evaluations, and 50% is from me.

Next time I do this, I'm planning to redo the matrix (the one I used wasn't as suitable as I'd like), and I'd like to do more with students talking to each other about performance rather than me synthesizing their results (there's a real tendency for students to be over-gentle with each other in the early going).

Most labs and essays (now exams) are written in a short paragraph style. I ask students to restrict themselves to about 500 words, and ask for about 4 paragraphs. They're assessed more or less after each lab and essay.



Earth History syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 213kB May4 12)