MCS-177: Intro to Computer Science I


The central theme of this course is the activity of abstraction, that is, finding powerful generalizations that transcend 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.

The textbook for the course will be Hailperin, Kaiser, and Knight's Concrete Abstractions: An Introduction to Computer Science Using Scheme. We will cover Chapters 1-9.

Reaching me

I should be in my office most days outside of class and lunch hours. Feel free to just stop by and see whether my door is open or make an appointment. You may send me electronic mail at or call me at extension 7469. I'll try to put any updates to my schedule in my webpage,, so check there if in doubt.

All course materials will be available through my World Wide Web page. The URL for this course is In general, I will generally not distribute hardcopies of handouts unless they are of help during class.

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.

Mastery homework

The course schedule shows due dates for eight homework assignments; each will typically consist of four or five 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 assess them as rapidly as I can. Once you receive an automated e-mail message stating that I've graded a problem, you can find the grade problem outside my office door. For those not yet mastered, I may write some brief indication of what area needs work. The comments may be quite vague in the hopes of encouraging you to see me in person for clarification. You may turn in a revised version of each problem 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 exam), 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.


You will have eight programming projects throughout the semester; for six of these, you will need to write a report that presents your work. Much, but not all, of the work for these projects can be done during the lab time. During this time, you will be able to ask the lab instructor (Karl Knight or San Skulrattanakulchai) for help or guidance.

The lab instructor will also be the one who grades the reports. When he grades these reports, he will evaluate the code for accuracy, efficiency, clarity, and style. Additionally, he will consider how well your report achieves the goals he has established for that report as a piece of writing. For example, he will consider how well your report outlines the main problem of the project, describes how your code fits together to solve this problem, and explains why your solution is a good one. Be sure to follow the writing guidelines he provides.

All lab assignments are due at the beginning of class on the day indicated. You are permitted to submit one lab assignment up to 72 hours late without penalty. (This policy is intended to accommodate illness or serious conflict. Please do not ask for additional exceptions unless your situation is particularly unusual.)


I will provide you with a letter or a numeric grade on each homework, project and exam. 90% or more of the points, you will earn an A, 85% for an A-, 80% for a B+ and down by 5 percentage points each to the lowest passing grade of 45% for a D. There is no curve.

However, we reserve the right to subjectively adjust your final grade. Please see your instructor if you have any question how you stand. Exams will be closed-book and closed-notes. You may, however, use a single 8 1/2 by 11 sheet of paper with hand-written notes for reference.

Any grade disputes should be made before the final exam. We will fix obvious grading errors promptly (and will thank you for pointing them out).

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.


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.


If you have a learning, psychological, or physical disability for which a reasonable accommodation can be made, I would be happy to refer you to the college's disability services coordinator, and to cooperate in the accommodation process. It is generally best if this can be done as soon as possible.