Approved by Faculty Senate

The purpose of the Natural Science requirement in the University Studies program is to provide students with the tools to understand and be able to apply the methods by which scientific inquiry increases our understanding of the natural world.

Geoscience 130 (Earth and Life through Time) is presently offered as a general-education course in the Natural Science area. The course has a prerequisite and is designed to help students achieve a more in-depth knowledge of Earth processes following an introductory course in geology (Geoscience 120—Dynamic Earth). Students meet together as a larger group (maximum enrollment 32 students) three times weekly for "lecture", and once weekly in smaller groups (maximum 16 students) for "laboratory" sessions. The lecture and lab are integrated as much as possible in the course so that students begin to understand the integrated nature of the discipline. This format will not change under the new University Studies program.

These courses must include requirements and learning activities that promote students' abilities to...

  1. understand how scientists approach and solve problems in the natural sciences;
  2. The overall goal of this course is to help students gain confidence as practicing geoscientists. Thus, all course activities are geared to help students achieve this goal. Geologic problems are posed and students work, in both class and laboratory sessions, to deduce the best method to solve those problems. The problem-solving process is different in geoscience than in other natural sciences, in that geoscientists must consider multiple spatial and chronological scales in their solution to any problem. This is a challenge for introductory level students and a good portion of the course is devoted to helping students understand the problem-solving methods employed in the geosciences.

  3. apply those methods to solve problems that arise in the natural sciences;
  4. Throughout the semester, students are presented with realistic problems in Earth History. Students are challenged to apply concepts learned in class to solve these problems and make predictions about various earth processes. Problem-solving activities range from short, in-class questions, to problem-sets assigned as homework, to laboratory activities. The laboratory activities in particular, give students the opportunity to solve realistic problems as they learn the skills involved in making and interpreting geologic maps. The problems are necessarily simplified when compared to those that face practicing geoscientists today because this is an introductory general-education course. However, given the level of the course, they are realistic problems that raise students’ awareness of issues relevant to the discipline. Students are additionally asked to solve problems on exams.

  5. use inductive reasoning, mathematics, or statistics to solve problems in natural science;
  6. This course is all about inductive reasoning. The process of interpreting Earth History from a given vertical succession of rock or a given geologic map forces one to piece together widely disparate ideas to form a viable conclusion. A wide variety of geologic phenomena may result in very similar endpoints. The challenge to the student in this course is to develop a valid scenario to interpret somewhat ambiguous data. In some regard, this process is like solving a jigsaw puzzle that is missing more than half its’ pieces, and without a picture to provide a clue as to how to proceed. There are many paths to achieve a final picture, but ultimately only one of them is the correct one.

  7. engage in independent and collaborative learning;
  8. Although the lecture is delivered to a larger group, students engage daily in short collaborative problem-solving activities. Usually this is accomplished via formative assessment activities associated with each lecture topic such as the think-pair-share technique. Several in-class exercises require students to work in teams of three or four. Students are encouraged to form study groups, and to work together on many laboratory activities. Independent learning is ensured by assigned homework sets, quizzes, in-class exams, and requiring that students write up their lab reports individually.

  9. identify, find, and use the tools of information science as it relates to natural science;

Course activities are designed to force students to begin to use the geologic literature to understand geologic concepts and to solve geologic problems. Activities require that students delve into the literature beyond their textbook to completely solve a problem. In addition, students are required to use computers and the internet as a means of accessing geologic information. One example of such an activity deals with the topic of plate tectonics. Students have a basic understanding of the main ideas from their prerequisite course, but must begin to explore the ideas and implications of this theory in greater detail in this course. Student teams are assigned a particular type of plate boundary setting to further research. They are given a set of focus questions and potential resources. The questions force them to synthesize information to calculate, for example, the average time between the start of subduction and the start of volcanism at island arcs, or the length of time to build an ocean as large as the Atlantic. At the end of the project, students present their findings to their peers.


f. critically evaluate both source and content of scientific information; and

One goal of the course is to help students become familiar with the literature and to begin to express their opinions of the papers they read (whether positive or negative). Therefore, students are asked to begin to read the geologic literature in this course. Course activities are intentionally designed to present students with papers that present conflicting views so that students begin to understand that they cannot believe everything they read, and must begin to formulate their own opinions based on their understanding of geologic processes.


g. recognize and correct scientific misconceptions.

One of the main goals of this course is to help students recognize and correct the misconceptions they hold. In the context of this course, misconceptions addressed range from helping students recognize science versus pseudoscience , to helping students understand the causes of the earth’s magnetic field and polarity reversals. Discrepant demonstrations are used whenever possible to force students to recognize and confront their misconceptions; these are followed by class activities designed to help students overcome and replace these misconceptions with accurate representations of scientific concepts.


Courses that satisfy the laboratory requirement in the Natural Sciences will additionally provide students the opportunity to practice scientific inquiry through hands-on investigations and to analyze and report the results of those investigations.

This course meets for a weekly laboratory session that is really the crux of the course. It is here that students are given the opportunity to explore in greater detail the concepts discussed in class. The laboratory is designed to be exploratory and inquiry-based, so that students construct their own paths to understanding geologic processes. Each laboratory topic builds upon the previous topic so that students build a robust appreciation of Earth processes. Laboratory sessions begin with learning to identify rocks, minerals, and fossils. Students then learn about how rocks can be deformed (by making models of Play-Doh and deforming them), and noticing the map patterns that result after such deformation. This leads to working with maps, where students first make the map by identifying rock units (rocks and their distinguishing characteristics, like fossils), and then must interpret the rock outcrop patterns to synthesize the geologic history of the area. The mapping projects increase in complexity throughout the semester until students can work with and interpret real geologic maps. The course also includes a one-day field trip that allows students the opportunity to practice skills learned in lab in a realistic situation.


Sample Syllabus

GEOS 130—Earth and Life Through Time

Class web page:



This course qualifies as a University Studies course satisfying the outcomes of the Natural Science Category. If you successfully complete the course, you will earn 4 credits toward completion of the Natural Science category of the University Studies Program and you will have satisfied the Natural Science laboratory requirement.

University Studies Outcomes

The purpose of the Natural Science requirement in the University Studies program is to provide students with the tools to understand and be able to apply the methods by which scientific inquiry increases our understanding of the natural world.

These courses must include requirements and learning activities that promote students' abilities to...

a. understand how scientists approach and solve problems in the natural sciences;

b. apply those methods to solve problems that arise in the natural sciences;

c. use inductive reasoning, mathematics, or statistics to solve problems in natural science;

d. engage in independent and collaborative learning;

e. identify, find, and use the tools of information science as it relates to natural science;

f. critically evaluate both source and content of scientific information; and

g. recognize and correct scientific misconceptions.

Courses that satisfy the laboratory requirement in the Natural Sciences will additionally provide students the opportunity to practice scientific inquiry through hands-on investigations and to analyze and report the results of those investigations.

Course activities described throughout the remainder of this syllabus will be coded to the above list of outcomes by the corresponding letter. These outcomes will be integrated throughout course content—each new topic will be presented in a manner in which the student will be able to understand and apply the methods by which scientists approach and solve problems in the natural sciences, using inductive reasoning or mathematics (outcomes a-c). Common scientific misconceptions will be identified at the start of each topic, and class material will be directed toward correcting those misconceptions (outcome g). You will be asked to work collaboratively on certain in-class activities and independently on homework and exams (outcome d). In-class and homework assignments will require that you work with the internet, textbook CD-ROM’s, and other sources to critically evaluate scientific information as it relates to Historical Geology (outcomes e, f). During laboratory meetings, you will have the opportunity to engage in hands-on scientific investigation of geologic phenomena, and will be required to analyze and report the results of your investigations (laboratory outcome).


Purpose of Class

The purpose of this class is to help you become familiar with the history of the Earth, including, but not limited to, major tectonic cycles, fossil evolution, and the use of the sedimentary record in deciphering this history (outcomes a, b, c). The course will focus most heavily on the sedimentary record of North America, largely because we will not have sufficient time to explore the stratigraphic record of all continents. The sedimentary record, when carefully analyzed, provides a powerful and precise gauge of tectonic influence on basin development. Thus, we will spend considerable time becoming more familiar with the processes of deposition of sedimentary rocks. We will also explore in more detail the various tectonic settings that lead to the development of distinct depositional basins. Armed with this understanding, we will then interpret Earth’s history by relying on our observation of the stratigraphic record and a firm understanding of geologic processes (many of which you are familiar with from Introductory Geology) (outcomes a, b, c). Remember that it is equally valid (and often easier) to understand what something cannot be and why, as it is to state definitely what it is.

Additional objectives of this course are to begin to become familiar with the geologic literature, to become comfortable and proficient at critically reading this literature and voicing your opinions (positive or negative) of these papers, to hone your observational skills, to become more proficient at basic geologic techniques including rock identification and map reading, to begin to write scientifically, and to become familiar with the use of computers and the world wide web as a means of accessing geologic information (outcomes e, f).


Logistics and Policies

This course is designed to stimulate and challenge your thinking. We will build upon material you have learned in Introductory Geology, hopefully in a creative, integrative, and enjoyable way. I will expect you to understand and apply fundamental concepts, rather than to simply memorize information, on exams and laboratory exercises. You should strive to achieve as complete and sound a geologic interpretation as possible. I encourage you to challenge yourself to draw from all areas of geology in your interpretations—the goal is to understand not only the process but also the geologic framework in which a rock unit is deposited. Remember that geologic processes are active at all scales and in all depositional basins.

Because scientific understanding does not usually progress in a vacuum—it is through discussions and arguments with colleagues that most advances stem—I encourage you to work in groups and to discuss your ideas and to work through confusing concepts with your colleagues in class (outcome d). Several exercises during the course of the quarter will force you to work in this manner. You will receive a group grade for each of these exercises. Your lab manual will be used as a supplement to lecture material and hands-on laboratory exercises; you should use this book to help you fully understand the course material.

There will be two one-hour lecture exams during the quarter. These exams will be in part comprehensive, but will concentrate largely on the material covered immediately prior to the exam. The final exam will be comprehensive. Everyone is required to take the final exam. You are expected to work individually on the exams (outcome d). Make-up exams will generally not be given. If you find that you unexpectedly cannot make it to an exam, contact me as soon as possible, and preferably before the exam is given. A 10% penalty will be accessed for each day an exam is taken late, unless the absence is due to illness and accompanied by a doctors note.

Laboratory exercises will be designed to familiarize you with techniques of geologic analysis, ranging from hand-sample description of rocks to broad-scale basin analysis and tectonics. You may work together in the lab, but unless otherwise directed, I will expect that each person write their own laboratory reports. I encourage you to discuss your findings and ideas with your classmates, but you must each submit your own write-up, stating your interpretations and conclusions in your own words (lab outcome). Your lab reports will be graded on scientific content and validity of conclusions, as well as on grammar and writing style. Lab reports will be due at the start of the lab period one week after the exercise is assigned, unless you are notified otherwise. No late assignments will be accepted.

There will be a required one-day field trip to be held toward the end of the semester (see lecture schedule for date). This trip will give you the chance to practice the skills you’ve learned in lab and in class in a real setting. You’ll also have the chance to start your own rock and fossil collection. Hard hats will be provided and you will be required to wear these in rock quarries.



Final grades will be based on your performance on exams, labs, lab exams, and homework assignments, as well as your participation in class. Grades will be apportioned as follows:


Exam 1: 10%

Exam 2: 15%

Lab Assignments: 10%

Rock Quiz: 5%

Lab Final Exam: 20%

Final Exam: 15%

Homework (assigned from lab manual): 20%

Participation: 5% (obviously you cannot participate if you are not present–get it!?!)


Note that 35% of your final grade will be based on your performance on final exams, either in lecture or in lab. This is because the material in this class builds heavily through the semester. Thus, it is essential that you keep up during the semester, and do not allow yourself to fall behind. Note also that 35% of your grade in this course comes from your lab work (assignments and exam). This is because it is important that you are able to "DO" geology, and not just talk about it. Thus, I will expect that you will be spending time outside of lab working on lab material, either in the lab or at home. The homework assignments from the lab manual will help you along the way. It is most important that you challenge yourself to think and to analyze complex geologic data in this course, rather than to memorize facts. The only thing I will expect you to memorize is the Geologic Time Scale. A handy crib sheet (called a bookmark by the author) is provided for you at the start of your textbook. I encourage you to consult this often!

If you choose not to complete an assignment or take an exam, I reserve the option to give you a grade of I (incomplete) for the course, rather than averaging in a zero for that item. You must take the final exam and the lab final, or you will receive a grade of F in the course, despite your previous performance in the course.

Final grades will be assigned on a numerical basis as follows:

A = 100%-90%; B = 89%-80%; C = 79-70%; D = 69%-60%; F = 59% and below



GEOS 130 — Earth and Life Through Time (Historical Geology)

Spring 2000 Dr. Catherine Summa Office: PA 112 / 457-5269

Class: PA 119 MWF 11-11:50 am Office Hours: posted at office

Labs: T 9:00-10:50 am / T 12:00-1:50 pm RM: PA 116


Week Date Topic Reading

1 12 Jan Introduction & Logistics

14 Jan Why study Earth’s history? Ch. 1


2 17 Jan Holiday—no class

19 Jan Principles of Stratigraphy Ch. 1

21 Jan More on Stratigraphy Ch. 1, 6


3 24 Jan Geologic Time Scale & measuring time Ch. 1, 6

26 Jan More on Geologic Time Ch. 1, 6

28 Jan Principles of radiometric dating Ch. 1, 6


4 31 Jan The (Radiometric) Dating Game Ch. 1, 6

2 Feb The Sedimentary Record Ch. 1, 4, 5

4 Feb Sedimentary Record—facies & formations Ch. 4, 5, 6


5 7 Feb Sedimentary Record—dep. environs & SL changes Ch. 5

9 Feb Sedimentary Record—sedimentary structures Ch. 5

11 Feb Correlation Ch. 6


6 14 Feb The Fossil Record—Classification & Evolution Ch. 3, 4, 7

16 Feb EXAM #1

18 Feb Holiday—No Class


7 21 Feb Biostratigraphic Correlation Ch. 3, 4, 6

23 Feb Earth’s Structure & Paleomagnetism Ch. 8

25 Feb Plate Tectonics & Basin Formation Ch. 8, 9


8 28 Feb Plate Tectonics Ch. 8, 9

1 Mar Plate Tectonics Ch. 8, 9

3 Mar Global Chemical Cycles Ch. 10


9/10 6 - 17 Mar No Class-spring break

11 20 Mar The Birth of Earth Ch. 11

22 Mar The Archean Ch. 11

24 Mar The Archean Ch. 11


12 27 Mar The Proterozoic Ch. 12

29 Mar The Proterozoic Ch. 12

31 Mar Proterozoic Tectonics Ch. 12


13 3 Apr The Precambrian-Cambrian Boundary Ch. 13, 14

5 Apr Early Paleozoic Events Ch. 13

7 Apr Middle Paleozoic Events Ch. 14


14 10 Apr Late Paleozoic Events Ch. 15

12 Apr Late Paleozoic—Formation of the Appalachians Ch. 15

14 Apr Paleozoic Life and Death Ch. 13, 14, 15


15 17 Apr EXAM #2

19 Apr The Mesozoic Ch. 16, 17

21 Apr The Mesozoic Ch. 16, 17


16 24 Apr Mesozoic Tectonics & Sedimentation Ch. 16, 17

26 Apr Mesozoic Tectonics & Sedimentation Ch. 16, 17

28 Apr Mesozoic Life & the Cretaceous Extinction Ch. 16, 17


17 1 May The Cenozoic Ch. 18, 19

3 May Cenozoic Tectonics & Sedimentation Ch. 18, 19

5 May The Pleistocene Glaciation Ch. 19, 20


18 8 May Cenozoic Life Ch. 18, 19, 20

10 May Cenozoic Extinctions Ch. 18, 19, 20

12 May Human Evolution Ch. 19, 20


19 18 May Final Exam 8 am (Thursday)


Required Field Trip: Saturday May 6, 2000 7 am - 7 pm. Cost: $15 covers transportation and entrance fee to Mystery Cave.

Required Text: Stanley, Steven M., 1999, Earth System History, W.H. Freeman and Company, 615 p. Other readings to be assigned.

Required lab Manual: Poort, J.M., and Carlson, R.J., 1998, Historical Geology: Interpretations and Applications, 5th ed., Prentice Hall, 252p. YOU MUST BUY THIS NEW ONLY!!!

Other Required Materials: 12-pack Colored Pencils (available at bookstore); Brain; 4-pack Playdough (available at K-Mart, Shop-Ko, and Target in Winona); Ruler.

Syllabus subject to change as semester evolves, but exam dates will remain as scheduled.


Laboratory Schedule:

Week Topic

1 (Tues, 11 Jan) no labs

2 (Tues, 18 Jan) rock identification I

3 (Tues, 25 Jan) rx id II

4 (Tues, 1 Feb) rx id III

5 (Tues, 8 Feb) ROCK QUIZ

6 (Tues, 15 Feb Sedimentary Structures I

7 (Tues, 22 Feb) Sedimentary Structures II

8 (Tues, 29 Feb) Fossil Identification (Buy your playdough by this date!)

9 (Tues, 21 Mar) geologic structures (you will work with playdough now)

10 (Tues, 28 Mar) geologic maps I

11 (Tues, 4 Apr) geologic maps II

12 (Tues, 11 Apr) geologic maps III

13 (Tues, 18 Apr) Assessment Day —No Labs

14 (Tues, 25 Apr) Plate Tectonics I

15 (Tues, 2 May) Plate Tectonics II

16 (Tues, 9 May) lab final exam


All lab exercises will be hands-on, and working with real samples. You will be producing your own geologic maps and cross sections, as well as working with published maps. It is important that you attend lab each week because samples will often be specifically arranged in the lab, and it will be difficult and time consuming (not to mention frustrating) if I have to set anything up specially for you.