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Course Information

Instructor Info:Steve Roof
Office Extension x5667
TA Info:Amber Bonarrigo
Term: 2012F
Meeting Info: Monday Wednesday
02:30 PM - 03:50 PM Cole Science Center 333
02:30 PM - 03:50 PM Cole Science Center 333

Did a meteorite wipe out the dinosaurs? Will increases in "greenhouse" gases cause global warming? Do continents really drift across the face of Earth? How do scientists come up with these theories anyway? In this course, we will read primary literature about past and present geological controversies to learn how scientists develop, test, and modify scientific hypotheses. We will see how scientific ideas are shaped by academic debates at meetings and in scientific journals and the influence of social and political values of the times. We will also gain an appreciation of the analytical and creative skills exemplified by past and present successful scientists from different cultures. Students will research in depth two controversies of their choice and share written and oral presentations with the class.

Course Objectives:

We will start the semester by delving into the concept of “deep” geologic time by asking the question “How old is Earth?” This question was a hot topic during the late 1800s which pitted the emerging field of earth science against prevailing social and religious beliefs. Our second topic of study will be the development of the plate tectonics theory. This theory, which is now widely accepted and considered a revolution in the earth sciences, was soundly rejected when the Beatles had their first hits. We will try to understand why the concept of continental drift was initially rejected even though compelling evidence in its favor was collected. These two topics will serve to introduce you to the foundations of geology. Additional topics of investigation may include the theories of whether extinction of the dinosaurs was caused by a meteorite impact, the threats of global warming, and whether radioactive wastes can be safely disposed in the Yucca Mountain (Nevada) repository.

Evaluation Criteria:

For this course to work well, everyone must read the background materials carefully ahead of time and come to class prepared to discuss issues. Active class participation and attendance are essential! Much of our analyses will be based on work done together in class (in large and small group discussions, debates, and presentations). Please note that “being prepared” for discussion means more than simply having read the assigned words! You must also processes and understand what you read, and be aware of the parts you do not understand. Numerous writing exercises will give you the chance to develop and polish your writing skills. While early in the semester, these reports may be largely summaries, you will be expected to incorporate higher-order thinking skills (e.g., interpretation, analysis, synthesis) as the semester progresses. Students will be responsible for leading class discussions, working with colleagues, and reviewing each others’ written work.

This course offers the opportunity for you to satisfy the following cumulative skills: Writing and Research, Quantitative Reasoning, and Independent Work.  However, you must satisfactorily work on these goals over the semester – you will not automatically pass them by simply attending class!

In order to receive an evaluation for your work in this course, you must complete all the course work and submit a portfolio and self evaluation by the end of the exam period.  Details about your portfolio will be discussed in class, but remember, it must contain all the work you have done during the semester, so be sure to save all of your work!  You will also write a self-evaluation that addresses your progress on your learning goals.  Your final course evaluation will be based on class participation, short papers, and research projects and presentations.

Additional Info:

Your attendance in class is crucial!  Please come to every class on time, pay attention, ask questions, and contribute to discussions.  If you bring a laptop to class, do not do facebook, check email, or do anything unrelated to the current class focus.

Completing assignments on time is also crucial.  I am accommodating of illnesses and other challenges that might affect your ability to attend classes and complete assignments, but you must contact me promptly and propose how you will complete your work.


**Unexplained absences, late assignments, or more than two missed classes will jeopardize your ability to pass this class**