Syllabus and general information for MCS-177: Introduction to Computer Science I (Spring 2003)


The central theme of this course is the activity of abstraction, which is ignoring irrelevant specifics. The quest for generality will motivate our study of programming: you will learn how to express general procedural ideas and how to use general categories of data in terms of their operational properties.

We will also use abstraction to make computational processes easier to think about. You will learn the relationship between the form of a procedure and that of the computational process it generates, including the resource consumption of that process. Also, you will learn how to prove that a procedure has the desired effect, and why such proofs are not always possible.


Although there are no formal prerequisites, you should understand the material that is typically covered in high school algebra.

Office hours

I will be available in my office (OHS 303) 10:30-11:20 Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, as well as by appointment. Or try your luck: just stop by and see whether my door is open. You may send me electronic mail at or call me at extension 7466. I'll try to put any updates to my office hours on my web page, so check there if in doubt.

World Wide Web

All course materials will be available through my World Wide Web page. The URL for this course is After this syllabus I will give hardcopy handouts only to those students who want them.


The textbook for the course will be Hailperin, Kaiser, and Knight's Concrete Abstractions: An Introduction to Computer Science Using Scheme, Brooks/Cole Publishing Co., 1999.


There will be two intra-term tests and a final exam, as shown on the syllabus below. (Note that the final exam will be as scheduled by the registrar. The date and time shown in the syllabus are the tentative projection from the registrar's office, but are subject to change by that office.) If you have a conflict with a testing time, please contact me as soon as possible to make an alternative arrangement.

Exams will be closed-book and mostly closed-notes. You may, however, use a single 8 1/2 by 11 sheet of paper with hand-written notes for reference. (Both sides of the sheet are OK.)

Attendance policy

Attendance is mandatory for all lab sessions, unless you have already turned in your project report. I will excuse up to two absences per student, for any reason. Use yours wisely. If you exceed this allowance, I may reduce your course grade by up to one letter grade.

Regarding class days, the policy is that you will be responsible for all material, whether or not you are in attendance when it is covered or distributed.


Students are encouraged to discuss the course, including issues raised by the assignments. However, the solutions to assignments should be individual original work unless otherwise specified. If an assignment makes you realize you don't understand the material, ask a fellow student a question designed to improve your understanding, not one designed to get the assignment done. To do otherwise is to cheat yourself out of understanding, as well as to be intolerably dishonorable.

Any substantive contribution to your solution by another person or taken from a publication should be properly acknowledged in writing. Failure to do so is plagiarism and will necessitate disciplinary action.

The same standards regarding plagiarism apply to team projects as to the work of individuals, except that the author is now the entire team rather than an individual. Anything taken from a source outside the team should be be properly cited.

One additional issue that arises from the team authorship of project reports is that all team members must stand behind all reports bearing their names. All team members have quality assurance responsibility for the entire project. If there is irreconcilable disagreement within the team it is necessary to indicate as much in the reports; this can be in the form of a ``minority opinion'' or ``dissenting opinion'' section where appropriate.

Mastery homework

The syllabus shows due dates for eight homework assignments; each will typically consist of a few problems. You must turn in all the problems in an assignment by that assignment's due date, but may turn in individual problems earlier if you wish. I will mark each problem as "mastered" or "not yet mastered," and return them to you as rapidly as I can. For those not yet mastered, I may write some brief indication of what area needs work, but you should really take these as an invitation to come talk. You may turn in a revised version of each problem (with the previous graded version attached) however many times it takes to reach the "mastered" point, even after the original due date. The only restrictions are these:

Note that if you turn in each homework problem as soon as you can do it, rather than saving them for the assignment due dates, you will have more opportunity for revision and resubmission before the cutoff dates listed above. Particularly for the last homeworks before each cutoff date (and test), I can't guarantee you'll have time for a revision cycle otherwise.

I may also announce an earlier cutoff date for any individual problem I consider important for us to discuss in class.

The homework portion of your course grade will simply be determined by the fraction of the homework problems you eventually mastered.

Late assignments

All project assignments are due at the beginning of class on the day indicated. Late assignments will be penalized by one ``grade notch'' (such as A to A- or A- to B+) for each weekday late or fraction thereof. However, no late assignments will be accepted after graded assignments are handed back.

If you are too sick to complete an assignment on time, you will not be penalized. Simply write ``late due to illness'' at the top of the assignment, sign your name and hand it in. Other circumstances will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Grade changes

Please point out any arithmetic or clerical error I make in grading (or one made by a lab instructor), and I will gladly fix it. You may also request reconsideration if one of us has been especially unjust.


I will provide you with a grade on each homework and project assignment, and on each test, in addition to the mid-term and final grades, so that you may keep track of your performance. As a guideline, the course components will contribute to your final grade in the proportions indicated below:

Style guidelines

All homework and project reports should be readily readable, and should not presuppose that we already know what you are trying to say. Use full English sentences where appropriate (namely almost everywhere) and clear graphs, tables, programs, etc. Remember that your goal is to communicate clearly, and that the appearance of these technical items plays a role in this communication process. Be sure your assignments are always stapled together and that your name is always on them.

Each project assignment will include specific expectations for that project's report, including the audience for which it should be written. You should pay careful attention to this information.


Please contact me immediately if you have a learning or physical disability requiring accommodation.


This is my best guess as to the rate at which we will cover material. However, don't be shocked if I have to pass out one or more revised syllabi.
2/101.1-1.2Introduction; simple expressions
2/11Project 0: Getting started (ungraded)
2/121.2-1.3Compound procedures; conditionals
2/13Project 1: Quilting

2/172.2InductionHomework #1
2/18Project 1 (continued)
2/192.3-2.4Further examples & custom-sized quilts
2/20Project 1 (continued)

2/243.2Using invariantsHomework #2
2/25Project 1 (concludes)
2/263.3Perfect numbers, internal definitions, & letProject #1
2/27Project 2: Sum of divisors
2/283.4Iterative improvement

3/33.5The Josephus Problem
3/4Special project: Card sorting (ungraded)
3/6Test 1, 7:30-9:00 PM, OHS 320 (no lab)
3/74.1Orders of growth

3/10More on orders of growth
3/11Project 2 (continued)
3/124.2Tree recursion and digital signaturesHomework #3
3/13Project 2 (continued)
3/14More on tree recursion and digital signatures

3/175.1Procedural parametersHomework #4
3/18Project 2 (last work day)
3/20Project 2 peer reviewProject #2 first draft
3/215.3Procedures that return procedures

3/245.4Application of higher-order programming
3/25Project 3: Fractal curvesProject #2
3/266.1-6.2Data abstraction
3/27Project 3 (continued)
3/286.3Representations and implementationsHomework #5

4/76.5Strategy procedures; Overview of other CS courses
4/8Project 3 (concludes)
4/96.4Three-pile NimProject #3
4/10Project 4: Nim with strategies

4/15Test 2, 7:30-9:00 PM, OHS 103 (no lab)
4/167.3Basic list processing
4/17Project 4 (continued)

4/22Project 4 (continued)
4/237.4Iterative list processingHomework #6
4/24Project 4 (concludes)
4/257.5Tree recursion and lists

4/287.6Movie query systemProject #4
4/29Project 5: Movie queries
4/308.1Binary search trees
5/1Project 5 (continued)
5/28.2Efficiency issues with binary search trees

5/58.3Expression trees
5/6Project 5 (continued)
5/79.1-9.2Generic operations: multiple representationsHomework #7
5/8Project 5 (concludes)
5/99.2 & 9.4More on multiple representations; computer graphics

5/12More on computer graphicsProject #5
5/13Project 6: Implementing graphics
5/149.3Exploiting commonality
5/15Project 6 (continued)
5/16More on exploiting commonalityHomework #8

5/19Project 6 (continued) in lab but at class time
5/20Project 6 (concludes)
5/21Review/evaluationProject #6

5/26Final exam, 10:30-12:30, OHS 321

Course web site:
Instructor: Max Hailperin <>