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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Terry W Swanson
ESS 101
Seattle Campus

Introduction to Geological Sciences

Survey of the physical systems that give the earth its form. Emphasizes the dynamic nature of interior and surface processes and their relevance to mankind and stresses the value of rocks and earth forms in the understanding of past events. A course with laboratory for non-science majors. Not open for credit to students who have taken ESS 105, or ESS 210. Field trips. Offered: AWSp.

Class description

After taking this course students will never look at the Earth the same! Students will learn about how the Earth evolved from primordial dust to form the compositionally zoned planet upon which life now exists. Students will learn about the unifying concept of plate tectonics, which will provide them with a framework to understand the why and where of earthquakes, volcanoes, mountain belts, ocean basins and rock types in their surrounding world. Students will become amateur geologists and drive their friends and families crazy with their new-found knowledge. Students will also learn about time and its importance to the geologic record. Students will learn that geologists pay more for their dates than Hollywoods most elite stars! This course will provide students with important information about geologic hazards, which will perhaps one day save lives or personal property. If students love the outdoors, this course will give them many opportunities to visit spectacular geologic sites around Washington state through the ESS 101 optional weekend field trip program. The entire class will be invited to attend a special IMAX viewing of a geologic film at the Seattle Center.

Student learning goals

Students will understand the comprehensive framework of plate tectonics and its relationship to continental drift, earthquakes, volcanism, rock formation, mountain building and creation of the ocean basins.

Students will be introduced to mineral and rock identification. They will be given the necessary learning tools to become rock hounds or amateur mineralogists. Students will learn how to use a identification key and identify mineral and rocks from their respective diagnostic properties.

Students will be able to determine geologic environments based on the presence and properties of rocks and minerals.

Students will learn about geologic hazards and the potential impact these hazards will have on their own lives and communities.

Students will learn about the important relationship between geologic time and geologic processes. Students will be introduced to the fossil record and its importance to defining the geologic time scale.

Students will learn about the important relationship that geology has with their lives on this planet. Earth systems are interconnected and geology is a common thread to all earth systems.

General method of instruction

Although the lecture of portion of this course is taught in a large lecture hall I try to engage all my students in small group discussions and interactive teaching techniques. I provide weekly tutorial sessions outside of the lecture hall where students can receive enrichment or extra help with the course material. I believe that my enthusiasm for my subject matter is as important as the subject matter itself in facilitating student learning. I try to create a learning environment in my classroom that enables all students the opportunity to achieve success if they are willing to put forth the effort. I have an open-door policy and an approachability that I believe promotes advanced discussion and interactions between myself and my students. I have also learned over the many years of teaching at the University of Washington that my students should play an important role in determining the content of my classes. Consequently, I will ask my students to provide me feedback at the beginning of the quarter to help me determine what they deem is important to learn in this exciting field of geology.

Laboratory consist of hands-on exercises where students learn to apply their knowledge in a cooperative group setting. Students will also be given the opportunity to form laboratory discussion groups to enrich their understanding and discuss differences of opinion regarding relevant geologic issues. During the summer quarter laboratory is conducted outside to enjoy the warm summer days in the Pacific Northwest.

A series of 7 to 9 optional field trips provides students with the unique opportunity to experientially learn about geology in natures back yard. The optional field trip opportunities that this class provides are unparalleled at this University. Students are given the opportunity to visit such locations as: Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier glaciers, the Olympic Mountains, the North Cascades, San Juan Islands, Seattle-Bainbridge Fault, Whidbey Island, fossil beds of the Chuckanut Formation, Gingko Petrified Forest and the coulees of the Columbia Plateau.

Recommended preparation

This course is intended for non-major students who have little math or physical science background. No pre-requisites are necessary to take this class. Please come with an open-mind and inquisitiveness about your natural world. The material discussed this course will engage all students, regardless of their respective academic backgrounds.

Class assignments and grading

Lecture and laboratory assignments will be completed during class time. There will be reading assignments associated with the lecture portion of the course. Laboratory assignments will be completed in the laboratory manual. Students will also be given an opportunity to debate an issue of geological significance. Extra credit field trip assignments are completed during each respective field trip.

Grades are assigned based on the following criteria:

140 points for laboratory (8 laboratory exercises, participation). Lab exam questions will be given on the midterm and final exams. 130 points for the Midterm (45 multiple choice questions and 5 bonus questions). 130 points for the Final (45 multiple choice questions and 5 bonus questions).

400 points total*

*There will also be extra credit opportunities available for the optional weekend field trips and the night at the movies Imax film opportunity for the whole class with the instructor.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Additional Information
Last Update by Terry W Swanson
Date: 08/14/2010