Page prepared for SERC by Jill Singer of Buffalo State College.


Jill Singer

Buffalo State College

Course Type:

Course Size:

Course Summary

This non-lab based course is open to all students, including geology and earth science majors. It is taken by prospective elementary teachers (often those earning a concentration in science) and secondary science teachers (primarily those students earning a certification in biology, earth science, or both). The course is designed to help students understand how the science of oceanography developed and ways that the oceans are studied, the use of ocean exploration tools (e.g., how oceanography can be done from orbiting satellites), the evolution and structure of ocean basins, the marine realm (physical properties of the water column and ocean diversity), and recent advances in our understanding of marine processes and resources.

For Dr. Singer's reflections on the course and its design, see Oceanography: Role in the Program.

Course Context:

This course is required for Earth Science majors and is intended to be a survey course in the study of the oceans. The course is taken by students to satisfy a general education requirement in the natural sciences (NS). Recently the course was revised and focused in order to meet the new guidelines for Technology and Society (a category in the revised general education program).

This is an introductory course with no pre-requisites and serves as a prerequisite for upper-level marine geology/oceanography courses. Typically, 50% of the students are science majors (primarily geology, earth science, or biology) and about 25% of the students are pre-service elementary or secondary science teachers. Although the course is not classified as writing intensive, there are three or four writing assignments. These assignments count 10% each for up to 40% of the student's final grade in the course.

Course Goals:

By the end of this course students will:

  1. Understand how scientific advances have contributed to our understanding of how the atmospheric and ocean systems are interconnected and implications for global processes (e.g, ENSO events, climate change, coastal dynamics).
  2. Be better able to interpret and use data to explain important ocean processes.
  3. Be better able to make decisions about avoiding or accepting natural hazard risks and personal choices about diminishing ocean resources.
  4. Increased awareness of the interconnections between earth systems and why it is important to know about ocean processes and the role the oceans play in critical societal issues.
  5. Other goals include improving students' writing skills, critical analysis of web sites, and use of data as evidence to support and explain ocean processes.

Course Content:

This course is divided into four main parts, and each part is connected back to the overarching themes of the course: the interdisciplinary nature of oceanography and our connections with the ocean. The first part is focused upon how we study the oceans and examples of how scientific discoveries have advanced our understanding of the oceans and seafloor. This part also explores the development of the theory of continental drift and theory of plate tectonics, marine evidence that underpins the theory of plate tectonics, and how this theory allows us to understand ocean crustal development and the opening and closing of ocean basins. The second part of the course examines seawater composition and the movement of the oceans (waves and current systems). Coastal processes are emphasized and examples of dynamic processes taking place along the shores of Lake Erie are used to help illustrate how marine processes also operate within the Great Lakes. The third part of the course exposes students to life in the oceans, its distribution, how marine organisms have adapted to living under conditions of high pressure, cold temperatures, and scarce food, and how we are depleting our ocean resources. Marine pollution is covered in parts two and three of the course.

Teaching Materials:

Oceanography Writing Assignments (Acrobat (PDF) 116kB Apr19 07)


Three or four writing assignments (examples included as a supplemental document). Each writing counts 10% of the final grade.

Multiple choice/essay exams.

References and Notes:

Oceanography: An Illustrated Guide, C.P. Summerhayes and S.A. Thorpe

Online issues (including back issues) of Oceanus (free access from the WHOI website)

WHOI (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
Monterey Bay Aquarium website
NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration)
USGS (United States Geological Survey)