CS200: Computer Science, Spring 2003
Course Objective. The goal of this course is to teach students with no prior experience in computing to think like computer scientists.
Course Description. In the past hundred years, computer science has changed the world more than any other field. Without nuclear Physicists, World War II may have lasted longer, but without computer scientists the other side may have won. Without computer science, humans would not have walked on the Moon, modern medicine would not exist, and Wal-Mart would be a small store in Arkansas.
But this cousre is not about the pragmatic impact of computer science; it is about something even more fundamental: how computer science changes the ways we think, solve problems and understand the world. Despite its name, computer science has very little to do with the beige boxes we call computers, and it is far from being a science. It has more in common with music and mathematics than it does with science or engineering. At its core, computer science is the study of imperative knowledge. Whereas mathematics is all about declarative knowledge ("what is"), computer science is all about "how to" knowledge.
Most of computer science stems from three simple ideas:
Although these ideas are simple, they have profound implications that it takes many years to fully appreciate.
- You can define things in terms of themselves (recursive definitions).
- You can treat procedures and data as one and the same (first class procedures).
- When you give something a name, it becomes more useful (abstraction).
The course will be designed to enable students to appreciate, use and understand ideas at the core of computer science. This course is meant to cover ideas that will be useful and interesting to students, whether or not they major in computer science.
Expected Background: This course is open to students with no prior background in computer science or programming. We expect students to know how to use email and the web, but no other background is expected.
Meetings: Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 2:00-2:50 pm in MEC 339.
Books: There are two required books for this course:
We will not cover all of either book, but will cover most of Chapters 14 of SICP and most of Part I of GEB. There will also be a few additional readings.
- Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs ("Wizard Book"), by Harold Abelson and Gerald Jay Sussman with Julie Sussman (referred to as SICP) [MIT Press] [Amazon]
- Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas R. Hofstadter (referred to as GEB) [Amazon]
Web page: http://www.cs.virginia.edu/cs200. This page is updated often and students are expected to visit it regularly (almost every day). All lectures, notes and assignments for the course will be posted on the web site.
AssignmentsProblem Sets. There will be eight problem sets that involve both written questions and programming problems. Some problem sets will be done by small groups of students. We expect doing the problem sets will be the best way to learn the course material.
The expected problem set due dates are given in the course schedule (but are subject to change).
Exams. There will be two exams during the semester and a final (which will be take-home unless I have any reason to believe there are any untrustworthy students in this class). All exams will be open book and open notes.
Collaboration PolicyYour fellow students are your best resource. In general, students are encouraged to discuss readings and assignments in study groups. Some assignments may have a specific collaboration policy, which should be explained clearly on the assignment. If this is ever unclear, ask to make sure before proceeding.
Students are also encouraged to consult outside sources, including human experts. Always list the resources you used (students, outside experts, papers, web sites) on your submission.
All students are required to sign the course pledge, which applies to the entire course.
StaffCoach: David Evans
firstname.lastname@example.org phone x2-2218 (office), (434) 293-9688 (home) office Olsson, 236A office hours Wednesday, 3:30-4:30pm; Thursdays, 4-5pm; email to arrange other times.
Assistant Coaches:Rachel Dada (email@example.com)All the assistant coaches took CS200 last year. Staffed lab hours will be posted on the course web site. The ACs should be very helpful to you during their posted lab hours, but please do not expect them to help you outside of those times. They have their own work to do too!
Jacques Fournier (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Spencer Stockdale (email@example.com)
Katie Winstanley (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Email: Send mail to email@example.com to reach the whole course staff.
EvaluationGrading will be based on approximately the following weighting:
Problem Sets 50 (40-70) Exam 1 10 (5-15) Exam 2 15 (10-20) Final Exam 25 (15-50) Class Contribution 0 (0-10)
Grades will be tabulated varying the weights assigned to each category in several different ways using the ranges above. Some of those weightings will drop the lowest problem set score. In general, the weighting that is best for you is used.
Regardless of these weightings, all students who put an honest effort into all the assignments and convince me they have learned to think like a computer scientist by the end of the course will receive an A as a final grade.
Using these Materials