Page prepared for SERC by Beth Pratt-Sitaula of Central Washington University.

Pacific Northwest Geology

Beth Pratt-Sitaula

Central Washington University

Course Type:
Regional geology content and teaching

Course Size:
less than 15

Course Summary

The course has a duel role of providing future secondary earth science teaching majors with more detailed geologic content knowledge of the Pacific NW (where most of them end up teaching) and providing them opportunities to actually teach secondary earth science both in the field and lab.

For Dr. Pratt-Sitaula's reflections on the course and its design, see Pacific Northwest Geology: Role in the Program.

Course Context:

This is a lower, upper-division class with GEOL 101 as a prerequisite. It is a required course for Earth Science Teaching Majors and Minors and Broad Area Science Minors (students planning to go on and teach at the secondary level). The class is geared towards giving the students both regional geologic content knowledge and experience teaching earth science field trips and labs. It varies in format from field trip, lab/group work, lecture, and student-led seminar.

Course Goals:

  1. Develop place-based guided-inquiry field trips and lab exercises for secondary students that is aligned with content standards
  2. Analyze geologic features for rock type and depositional history and interpret the geologic history
  3. Describe the basic chronology of geologic events in the Pacific Northwest of North America.
  4. List and describe the key geographic/geologic regions of the Pacific Northwest
  5. Construct a conceptual W-E cross-section of the Pacific NW for various times in the geologic past
  6. Analyze earth science literature written for geologists and the general public, extract the key points, and restate it in both written and picture form to be understandable to secondary students

Course Content:

The course focuses on both practical secondary earth science teaching experience and geologic content knowledge. One of the main goals is to have the students leave with the skills it takes to develop a guided inquiry field trip to a local site of interest (not a "lecture-on-an-outcrop"). To this end they do a lab themselves to determine the geologic history of a local hill. They then redesign the lab and lead it for local 9th graders. Another major project is designing their own field trip to a site near where they hope to teach. Students also spend two weeks teaching earth science laboratories in the local middle school. The balance of the class is devoted to student-led seminars and professor lectures on the geology of the Pacific NW. Each student is required to become an "expert" on a certain region of feature of NW Geology and then share the knowledge with their classmates. The different regions are stitched together via a wall-sized chart that covers NW Geology from both a temporal and spatial perspective. The students also complete a "Pictorial History" of their region of interest—a book that visually depicts how one part of the Pacific NW has looked at different time in the geologic past.

Teaching Materials:

Syllabus (Microsoft Word 105kB Apr19 07)
Assorted Assignments from the class (Acrobat (PDF) 1001kB Apr19 07)


Formative assessment of students goes on throughout the course—primarily in the form of direct questions, overheard student conversations, student reflections, and homework assignments. The majority of the summative assessments are through student performance. All assignments are accompanied by rubrics to detail instructor expectations and to model good assessment practices.

Listed assessments refer to the goal numbers above.

  • 1 & 2. Students are required to turn in a lab of their own interpretation of a local outcrop. They then redesign the assignment to be appropriate for 9th graders, teach it, and reflect on the experience. If they are able to accomplish these tasks, goals 1 & 2 are met.
  • 3-5. Summative assessment are in the form of a final exam that asks the students to make a geologic cross-section of this area at several different times in the geologic past (Goal 5). In order to fully accomplish this, they must also be able to do 3 & 4. If the cross-section is reasonably accurate, they students demonstrate proficiency of these goals.
  • 6. In order to design their own field trip (a separate project from the 9th grade field trip) and develop a "Pictorial History Book" the students must access the scientific and general geologic literature and reinterpret the material for the secondary level. If they are able to successfully complete both projects, then Goal 6 is met.

References and Notes:

Required text - Geology of the Pacific Northwest by William and Elizabeth Orr (Waveland Press)

Other resources used: