Geology 2-Earth's Surface

Sarah Cadieux
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute


Earth's surface focuses on understanding how the surface of the Earth changes over time, by focusing on interactions of wind, water, ice and life with the lithosphere. As an introductory course, the emphasis is on how the structure and evolution of the Earth's surface environment has shaped our society and affects our lives.

Course Size:

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

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs

Course Context:

This is an introductory course with no pre-requisites. It is required for the Environmental Science and Geology major, but is not a prerequisite for other courses. Generally 78-80% of students take this course to satisfy a general education requirement. The course has an optional lab-but 99% of the students take it for the needed credit.

Course Content:

This course will focus on learning about geological environment of humankind: the atmosphere, oceans, groundwater, rivers, glaciers, deserts, and coasts. We will explore the processes by which these and other features develop and change, the opportunities or hazards they present, and the ways in which humans can modify their development.

Course Goals:

- I understand how wind, water, ice and biology can change the surface of the Earth
- I understand Earth's climate system
- I can apply principles of logic and reasoning to analyze geologic problems
- I understand how geology relates to your everyday life
- I can travel to new and exciting places and explain to friends and family how those landscapes formed and may change in the future

Course Features:

This course is predominantly lecture-based, including daily in-class activities and iClicker questions. Prior to each class, students complete a pre-class reading quiz in order to establish common knowledge. There are a number of in class quizzes throughout the semester to check for understanding and ensure distributive studying. Students are asked to "take a hike" at one point in the semester to put their observation skills and knowledge to the test, by describing 4 surgical geological features or processes.

Course Philosophy:

This design was chosen due to the large course size. My teaching style is to have class time be a period of active learning, which is more difficult with the number of students and the classroom layout. By having students take a pre-class quiz before each class, this eliminates some lecturing, allowing more time to devote to complex topics and applicability of material.


Assessment measures include exams, pre-class reading quizzes, quizzes, in-class participation and a paper.


Syllabus (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 71kB May7 19)

References and Notes:

Christopherson, Cunha, Thomsen and Birkeland: Geosystems Core 1e
This text was suggested by a colleague.