Honors Geology

Wendy Van Norden

Harvard-Westlake High School (Other)


Survey course in physical geology with labs and field trips

Course Type: Intro Level:Physical Geology
Course Size:
less than 15

Course Context:

This is a full year high school course for Juniors and Seniors with a prerequisite of chemistry and (this year only) physics. The UCLA Earth Science Systems course is embedded within the course, and at the end of the year the students have to option of taking a test which will allow them to earn credit through UCLA Extension. It is an honors course, which, according the the UC system, is a course that is a higher level than a course already taught at the school (regular geology). The course was created to appeal to high-achieving science students who would otherwise take Advanced Placement courses.

Course Goals:

1. Students will learn the composition of the Earth. They will understand how the formation, composition and the tectonics of the Earth make it different from the other planets and moons of the Solar System
2. Students will understand the formation of rocks and minerals, and will gain an appreciation of how rocks and minerals are used in our lives
3. Students will investigate the formation of ores and fossil fuels. They will learn about the techniques, economics, and environmental impacts of mining.
4. Students will learn how to interpret topographic maps and aerial photographs
5. Students will be familiar with the major events in each of the geologic eras, and will gain an understanding of "deep time"
6. Students will be able to look at the land and explain how the processes of erosion and deposition have shaped it.
7. Students will become familiar with the causes of geologic hazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and mass wasting, and will learn how to mitigate those hazards.
8. Students will become familiar with the major geologic landforms of the United States, and California in particular.
9. Students will search for data sets on the Internet, import the data into spreadsheets and create and interpret graphs of the data.
10. Students will make the leap from learning about rocks and geologic formations in the classroom and seeing those rocks and formations in the field.
11. Students will have a greater appreciation of the most beautiful places on Earth (e.g., the Grand Canyon, Alps, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Hawaii, etc.) because they will understand how they formed. They will start asking for the window seat of the airplane, because they can now marvel at the geological patterns. In short, they will see the Earth as a constantly changing, and utterly fascinating planet.


- Online homework quizzes
- Unit tests and smaller quizzes
- Lab reports and lab quizzes
- One required field trip with test. Geology is best taught in the field. By having two or three field trips to Death Valley, open to regular and honors geology students, all students would have more options of when to attend. The honors students would be given a more demanding test. Hopefully, optional field trips to Rainbow Basin, the East Mojave, and Santa Paula Creek would also be available.
- Projects- mining simulation, powerpoint presentations


Syllabus (Microsoft Word 20kB Jun23 06)

Teaching Materials:

References and Notes:

Exercises in Physical Geology, W. Kenneth Hamblin & James D. Howard,
The Control of Nature, John McPhee
Understanding Earth, Grotzinger, Press