Department of Computer Science
CPSC110H: Honors Introduction to Computer Science
This course provides an introduction to computer programming focusing on how to build physical devices and design programs.
These objectives are true of all sections of cs110 – Intro to CS.
- Gain a conceptual understanding of computers, computing, and issues with technology through breadth-first topics.
- Develop skills in algorithmic problem-solving, expressed in a programming language.
- Represent and manipulate information in a program that executes on a computer.
The goal of the sections I teach is to acquire programming skills. In addition to the course objectives listed above, objectives specific to these sections include:
- to be able to use basic algorithm concepts to solve problems including
- boolean expressions
- to be able to write simple programs to solve problems
The course takes an active, hands-on approach to learning. Students will spend much of the class time exploring, experimenting, and evaluating code using their own laptops and electronics kits. Class time is divided between very short lectures, individual experimentation with programming, working on code with a partner, team projects, and quizzes. During the first week all students will be assigned to permanent teams. Depending on the final class size there will be about 4-5 people per team. Teams are constructed so they contain people with a variety of skills including those with l33t skillz.
There is no textbook for the course. The required electronics kit is the Sparkfun Inventor’s Kit version 3.2. It is available at the bookstore, on Amazon, and directly from Sparkfun.
I am assuming that nearly everyone (perhaps 28 out of 30 students) has a laptop. You will be working with your laptop during a large percentage of our class. It doesn’t matter if your laptop runs Microsoft Windows, is a Mac, or an Ubuntu machine. It doesn’t matter if it is 5 years old. It also doesn’t matter how powerful it is–even a basic netbook will work. Don’t worry if you don’t have one. Make sure you can get on the university’s secure network.
Grading is based on a method developed by Professor Lee Sheldon at Indiana University. It is based on obtaining experience points (XP). The number of XP determines what level you are at. You start the class at Level Zero and with 0 XP. The level you obtain at the end of the semester determines your final grade. Here is the chart:
There will be opportunities to earn at least 2400XP during the course. If you fail to obtain enough XP on one task you can simply do an additional task. For example, if you do poorly on a quiz, you can elect to do an additional side challenge. You gain XP working individually, with a partner, and with your team.
If you are below Level Four when mid-semester reports are due, I will report your work as unsatisfactory.
What an A means.
Here’s the scoop with the grading system. You don’t need to be a computer geek or math wiz to get an A in the class. It doesn’t matter what your skills are nor what your interests are, you can get an A. In last 2 years in this class 50% of the people received an A and on average over 30% of the people in all my cs110 classes get an A. (I should also point out that about 20% of the people who enroll in the honors section drop the class. Many of those who drop enroll in a non-honors section of the class). An A means that you have mastered some rudimentary programming skills. An A does not mean that you will do well as a computer science major and continue to get A’s in computer science courses. Typically 25-30% of the people taking the next course in the computer science sequence fail. If you are interested in majoring in computer science please talk to me sometime during the semester so I can help you determine if majoring in computer science is the right choice for you.
Quizzes – 200 XP
There will be approximately 4 short (5-10 question) multiple-choice readiness assessment tests given during the course. Each test will be taken individually, then, immediately after, the same test will be taken as a team. Each individual test is worth on average 25 points; each team quiz is also worth on average 25XP. Makeup tests will not be given.
Homework – 350XP
10-12 homework assignments will be distributed throughout the semester. To accommodate students of different abilities some challenges may come in different editions: the standard edition and the hacker’s edition. You gain more XP by completing the hacker’s edition.
Individual & Partner Programming Challenges – 900XP
Approximately twenty programming challenges will be assigned throughout the semester. Some are specified as partner tasks and some as individual tasks. These challenges will be done in class. Most of these challenges are variations of programming you have done as part of working through team tasks.
Team Programming Challenges – 100XP
For these challenges you will work with your team. You will be working on writing code (programs) that solve a particular problem. This work is typically done during class time. The experience points vary depending on the challenge. Typical challenges will be about 30-50XP.
Midterm Creative Project – 100-200 XP (optional)
If you are feeling inspired, you can create a project on your own.
Final Creative Project – 350XP
This is a chance to use the skills you developed over the semester and build something of your own invention. Further details of the project will be given mid semester.
Side Challenges – at least 150XP
In other classes this might be termed extra credit. Throughout the semester I will post a side challenge–typically a question–on our website. Depending on the question, it can be answered with a short paragraph or a few lines of code. The experience points will vary depending on the challenge but will be worth at least 20XP.
Team Participation – about 50XP
Each student will rate the helpfulness of all members of their team. Individual team participation scores will be the sum of the points they receive from other members of their team. Each team member distributes 50 points to other members of the team. The average team participation score will be 50 points. The rater must differentiate some of their ratings (they cannot assign the same rating to all members).
Avatar names, pseudonyms, noms de plume
During the first week of class I will ask you for your avatar name, pseudonym, whatever. This is the name that will appear on the Experience Point Google Spreadsheet that will be viewable by everyone in the class. If you wish to remain anonymous, don’t share your avatar name with anyone. On the other hand, if you would like recognition for achieving level 10 as an example (“a big shout out to tera miner for achieving level 10″), you can share your name. The decision is yours. To further protect the anonymity of those who wish to remain anonymous, the spreadsheet will also be populated by fictitious avatar names.
Do I need to be a math wiz or computer geek to succeed in this class?
I am hoping that there will be some of you who look over the above list of activities and think, wow! that’s exactly what I want to do. I expect some of you will look at that list and panic. Programming in front of a teacher–that seems scary and high stress. You may hate math and feel you have no talent there. You may feel that you are not computer geeky enough to take the class. Rest assured, this is not the case. I designed this course to enable people from a variety of backgrounds to succeed. You’ll be doing the majority of your programming in class and much of that time will be working with other students. If you have problems we will solve them quickly. The computer language we will be using is easy to learn but yet very expressive.
I figure if I can program chances are good that you can program. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in music performance. I took zero math classes in college. Zero. Maybe you think, yeah, but you were probably a math wiz in high school. Nope. I went to an all boys trade high school with basically zero math. Regardless of your background, if you are interested in learning to program you can do it.
If you have any questions or would like more information about the course please contact me.
If you have any computer related questions, even if they are not central to the topic of this course, please come and see me.
Accommodations for students with special needs
Any student with a documented disability may receive a special accommodation to complete any requirements of this course. If you are have a disability or believe you have one you may wish to self-identify. You may do so by providing documentation to the Office of Disability Services located in Room 203 of George Washington Hall (Phone: Voice 540-654-1266, Fax: 540-654-1163). Appropriate accommodations may then be provided for you. If you have a condition that may affect your ability to exit the premises in an emergency or that may cause an emergency during class, you are encouraged to discuss this in confidence with me and/or anyone at the Office of Disability Services. This office can also answer any questions you have about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
I assume you are an ethical student and a person with integrity. I expect that you will follow the university honor code (see http://rosemary.umw.edu/CSHonorCode.html). Please use common sense and ask yourself what would a person with integrity do? To help you, I would like to make three comments related to this:
Plagiarism means presenting some other person’s work as your own. This can mean using some other person’s words without acknowledging their source, or using some other person’s ideas. Copying another student’s work (homework or exam) is also plagiarism. Plagiarism will minimally result in a negative score for that work. For example, if the work was worth 100xp, plagiarized work will result in a score of -100.
Collusion is unauthorized collaboration that produces work which is then presented as work completed independently by the student. Collusion includes participating in group discussions that develop solutions which everyone copies. Collusion will result in a negative score for that work.
I ask that you respect the other people in the class. I recognize that your life circumstances may require you to receive cell phone calls during class. If this is the case please set your cell phone on vibrate and discretely leave the class to accept calls. During tests, if you walk out of the classroom, or consult/display your cell phone, I will assume you are done with the test and collect your grading sheet.
I expect students to attend classes regularly. Since you will be spending the majority of class time working on projects, if you miss a class you will miss the opportunity to earn XP. That said, attendance is not taken and no XP will be awarded based directly on attendance. If you are going to miss a class, please be courteous and inform me and your teammates.
General Education Student Learning Outcomes
- Students will demonstrate an ability to interpret quantitative/symbolic information. For example, students should be able to examine an algorithm or source code and state in English the behavior of that code.
- Students will have the ability to convert relevant information into various mathematical/analytical forms. For examples, students should be able to take a problem description and produce a working computer program.
- Students will be able to apply analytical techniques or rules to solve problems in a variety of contexts. For examples, take an idea they have for an Android application, produce a specification for how to implement that idea, and produce a working version of the program.
- Students will gain an appreciation for how analytical techniques or rules are used to address real-world problems across multiple disciplines.
The class schedule is posted on the course website.
Here are some other important things you should know:
- Regarding XP. As in a computer game, there is no negotiation for what XP you need to attain a certain level. For example, level 11 (the level associated with an A-) requires 2000 XP. Last semester someone sent me email saying they had 1998 XP, they worked really really hard all semester and deserved an A-. I gave him the A- but starting now the boundaries are hard and there is no negotiating.
- Cheating. Every semester I have multiple cases of people cheating either through plagiarism or collusion (see above definitions). Minimally, I give a person a 0 for that submission. When I taught a New Mexico, I automatically flunked people for an instance of cheating. For example, last semester two people worked together on the final exam. When I sent email telling them they got a zero, one wrote back complaining that this would really affect their final grade. In this class, most of the work will be done in groups, but be very mindful of when you should be doing work on your own.
- Crowd sourcing and reducing my Cognitive Load. Here’s the deal. When communicating with me please error on the side of giving me too much information. A few semesters ago, I received emails with sentences like “My partner was Austin” (when there were 3 Austins in the class) or “I worked with Matt”. It reduces my cognitive load if you specify what section you are in and give full names.