Introduction to Physical Geology

Ann C. H. Hadley
Manchester Community College


This course is an introduction to the principles governing the composition and structure of the Earth, and the study of land forms and geological processes on the surface and within the Earth. Topics include: rock forming minerals, rocks, glaciers, earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics and mountains. Field trips and lab activities will emphasize the geologic history and features of Connecticut.

Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture and lab

Institution Type:
Two Year College

Course Context:

This course is introductory level with a prerequisite of English 101. This course is required as part of the Environmental Science A.S. Degree. Most students take the course as a general education rquirement.

Course Content:

Introduction to Physical Geology integrates a laboratory as part of the course. The two field trips allow students to build on their laboratory experiences by identifying and interpreting rock types and structures as well as surficial processes. By the end of the course, students have a comprehensive understanding of the geologic history of Connecticut and New England and an understanding of the evolution of its landforms.

Course Goals:

Upon successful completion of this course, the student should be able to:
  1. Demonstrate the ability to utilize the Scientific Method by completing several applications;
  2. Diagram and describe a cross-section of the Earth's interior;
  3. Utilize keys to identify minerals and rocks;
  4. List the most common properties utilized to distinguish minerals;
  5. List the most common elements abundant in the Earth's crust;
  6. Distinguish between igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks;
  7. Diagram and describe intrusive igneous formations such as dike, sill, laccolith, batholith;
  8. Describe the relationship between magma composition and volcano type;
  9. Present a detailed description of the hydrologic cycle;
  10. List the roles played by subsurface water as a geologic agent;
  11. Describe the youthful, mature and old age stages in the cycle of stream development;
  12. Describe the processes and byproducts of rock weathering;
  13. Distinguish between various types of glaciers, how they form and how they move;
  14. Describe coastal erosion processes and coastal landform features;
  15. Describe causes of earthquakes and distinguish between the types of earthquake waves;
  16. Diagram and describe various types of faults and folds;
  17. Interpret the geologic history of deformed rocks;
  18. Diagram and describe the rock cycle;
  19. Describe the basic history of a rock sample by interpreting its features;
  20. Interpret data on a topographic map and a geologic map;
  21. Plot and interpret data relating to flood hazard zones, climate change and earthquake activity;
  22. Outline evidence for plate tectonics and sea-floor spreading;
  23. Describe the 3 major events in the geologic history of Connecticut.

Course Features:

One of the most effective features of the course is that the class and lab time are integrated, and all of the class time is held in the lab. The lab also contains student computer stations. This allows students and faculty to engage in hands on activities at various times during the class. This also allows for an extended period of time for field trips. The students build their lab skills and then apply their knowledge during field experiences.

Course Philosophy:

It is important that our students have an understanding of their local environments and the features of their communities. Most of our students will choose to continue to live in these same communities upon graduation, and they will be the stewards of their resources. Upon completion of this course, they will have a good understanding of the history and nature of their local geological resources and the roll they play.


A student's success is assessed by completion of the following components:
  1. 45%: Tests: there will be 4 tests and the lowest test grade will be dropped (so 15% each for 3 highest).
  2. 15%: Homework, pre-labs, quizzes, "One-minute essays", in-class assignments (including video sheets), class notebook and class participation.
    Students must turn in a 3-ring notebook of all class work for evaluation at the end of the semester.
  3. 20%: Final Exam: covers the full semester's work.
  4. 20%: Lab activities: All labs must be attended. A student will be allowed only ONE unexcused lab absence with no penalty.


References and Notes:

Text: The Dymanic Earth: An Introduction to Physical Geology; 5th Edition; Skinner, Porter and Park, 2004
Lab book: Laboratory Manual in Physical Geology, 8th Edition; R.M. Busch, editor, AGI and NAGT, 2009