University of Virginia, Department of Computer Science
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:

  1. You can define things in terms of themselves (recursive definitions).
  2. You can treat procedures and data as one and the same (first class procedures).
  3. When you give something a name, it becomes more useful (abstraction).
Although these ideas are simple, they have profound implications that it takes many years to fully appreciate.

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 1–4 of SICP and most of Part I of GEB. There will also be a few additional readings.

Web page: 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.


Problem 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 Policy

Your 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.


Coach: David Evans
phone x2-2218 (office), (434) 293-9688 (home)
officeOlsson, 236A
office hoursWednesday, 3:30-4:30pm; Thursdays, 4-5pm; email to arrange other times.

Assistant Coaches:

Rachel Dada (
Jacques Fournier (
Spencer Stockdale (
Katie Winstanley (
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!

Email: Send mail to to reach the whole course staff.


Grading will be based on approximately the following weighting:

Problem Sets50 (40-70)
Exam 110 (5-15)
Exam 215 (10-20)
Final Exam25 (15-50)
Class Contribution0 (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.

CS 200

CS 200: Computer Science
Department of Computer Science
University of Virginia
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