Course Notes

The History of Life course (ESCI 100) is a broad overview of the evolution and diversification of life on Earth. It is an introduction to science in general and to evolutionary biology and historical geology in particular, but science majors as well as non-scientists will find the material interesting and challenging. This course, in fact, counts toward both the major in Geology and the major in Environmental Geoscience. It is all great fun, especially when you see that the material not only changes every semester, it changes every week. And wait until you see what strange and marvelous events have happened in the History of Life!

Attendance.–We will meet at 8:00 a.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for lectures in Scovel 205. Attendance is required. You are expected to be in the classroom before 8:00 a.m., especially if there is a quiz. If you have trouble getting out of bed for a morning lecture, this is not the course for you.

Laptop, tablet, smart watch and phone policy.–Research has conclusively shown that the use of laptops and other digital devices in the classroom actually interferes with learning. One study says bluntly: “Our results showed that nonacademic Internet use was common among students who brought laptops to class and was inversely related to class performance.” And here’s another study on the ineffectiveness of multitasking in the classroom. Off-task use of electronic devices, of course, is the most distracting. Use of laptops, tablets, smart watches and phones is thus not allowed in our classroom. There can be exceptions in special circumstances — please talk to me first.

Grading.–The grade in this course will be based on two hourly tests, a final examination, and twelve “pop” (unannounced) quizzes. A student not present in class when a quiz is given (even if it is the beginning of the class) will receive a zero for that assignment. Missed quizzes cannot be “made up” for any reason (except a scheduled and conflicting college event), but the lowest two quiz grades will be dropped at the end of the semester. Please note the dates for all the regularly scheduled tests — these dates will not be changed except under unusual circumstances.

First Examination (February 15): 20% of course grade
Second Examination (April 5): 25% of course grade
Final Examination (May 6, noon): 30% of course grade
Pop Quizzes (12 given): 25% of course grade (lowest two dropped)

In every class at Wooster you should receive a major graded assignment before the drop date. That major assignment in this course is the first test on February 15. I keep all the grades on a spreadsheet so I can quickly calculate your cumulative course average. It is, however, your responsibility to stay informed about your course performance. Just ask me if you have questions about your scores. It is possible to take this course “S/NC”, unless you plan to major in geology. The minimum letter grade for an “S” in this course is C-, which is a final average better than 70% on tests and quizzes. I do not encourage the S/NC option — usually students taking it earn higher grades anyway, or they fail with scores below C-.

Preparation questions/pop quizzes.–Before each class lecture I will post a list of preparation questions. These questions are designed to prepare you for each new topic. If we have a pop quiz on the listed day, it will include these questions AND one surprise question from previous lectures to encourage  review. I recommend you thus have answers for them — at least in your head! — before each class meeting. You will have twelve pop quizzes by the end of the course, with the lowest two grades dropped. They count for a total of 25% of your final grade. If you are absent for any reason when a quiz is given (other than a scheduled college event you told me about in advance), that quiz grade will be recorded as a zero. You may use any source to answer these questions before class. For a quiz, of course, you’re on your own. The quizzes, by the way, are most often given at 8:00 a.m. If you’re late, no quiz for you!

Review sessions.–Every Friday I will run a review session from 3:30 – 4:30 p.m. These sessions are completed devoted to answering your questions. You can come anytime and ask any question, even if it has been asked before. The time is set so that some people can come before their 4:00 p.m. obligations and others can come after 4:00 p.m. labs or classes.

Academic integrity.–This course is administered under The Wooster Ethic and The Scot’s Key, which you should review. Violations of the Ethic in this course include consulting notes, other student papers, or electronic devices during tests and quizzes. My penalties for cheating start with an F in the course and then get worse.

Schedule conflicts.–The faculty of the College has approved a policy regarding conflicts between extracurricular and academic events:

“The College of Wooster is an academic institution and its fundamental purpose is to stimulate its students to reach the highest standard of intellectual achievement. As an academic institution with this purpose, the College expects students to give the highest priority to their academic responsibilities. When conflicts arise between academic commitments and complementary programs (including athletic, cultural, educational, and volunteer activities), students, faculty, staff, and administrators all share the responsibility of minimizing and resolving them. As a student you have the responsibility to inform the faculty member of potential conflicts as soon as you are aware of them, and to discuss and work with the faculty member to identify alternative ways to fulfill your academic commitments without sacrificing the academic integrity and rigor of the course.”

Textbooks.–The web is your textbook! (Rather inexpensive, I’d say.)

Course instructor.–I have an appointment schedule posted outside my office door (Scovel 120). Please sign up for an appointment if you have any questions or just want to talk. You may also send me email at In a large course such as this students often think I am too busy to see them individually, but this is not true. Please visit me if there is anything at all you wish to discuss. The material for this course is too interesting to just let it go by as lectures!

Mark A. Wilson
Department of Earth Sciences
The College of Wooster

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