Course Objectives:


“Pluto should no longer be considered a planet.”


“The earth’s surface temperature is increasing at an alarming rate.”


“You need surgery.”


For the rest of your life, people will make scientific claims to you.  In some cases these claims will have little bearing on your lives.  In other cases, they will form the basis for decisions that will change the way you live.  In this class we will explore the natural sciences not simply as a compilation of facts, but as the results of a scientific process.  By the end of the semester, you will have the skills and knowledge necessary to know when a claim is justified and how well supported a scientific theory actually is.  Ten years after graduation, knowing the three classes of rock or the five kingdoms of life might not be very important to you, but being able to judge the merit of a scientific claim just might turn out to be the most important thing you learned in college.


Major Themes of the Course:

  • The nature of science
  • Observation and classification as tools for discovery
  • The interplay of fact and theory
  • Ecosystems and their components
  • Interactions between the natural world and the physical environment
  • Evolution and adaptation
  • The importance of scientific awareness


Tools and Techniques:

  • Group discussion
  • Critical thinking and personal reflection
  • “Hands-on” approach to scientific exploration
  • Data collection and analysis
  • Presentation of scientific findings
  • Extensive field experience


There are three main learning objectives for this course which represent three different levels of knowledge about nature.  By the end of this course, students should be able to:


-          “What element is the primary component of the atmosphere?”

-          “What is a sedimentary rock?”

-          “How do we know the composition of the atmosphere?”

-          “How do you tell a sedimentary rock from an igneous rock?”

-          “How might you determine the composition of the atmosphere on Venus?”

-          “Given this sample of sedimentary rock, what can you tell about its depositional environment?”