In MCS-178 we continue exploring the perspectives and methods of computer science, particularly abstraction. We'll first consider the notion of computations with changing state by looking "under the hood" at computers. We'll extend this notion of state into other areas, such as the use of state to construct more efficient computational processes than otherwise, and the use of object-based and object-oriented programming to model systems of objects with changing state. Along the way, we'll also confront language issues, by investigating how one might write and modify a Scheme system in Scheme (a so-called meta-circular evaluator) and by introducing a second programming language, Java. At the end of the semester we'll take a brief look at Java's use in writing event-driven and concurrent programs (those that behave in response to user actions and those that do more than one thing at a time).
Prerequisite: Successful completion of MCS177.
Course Webpage: The course webpage is
There you will find a complete schedule,
homework assignments, suggestions on how to improve your grade, and so
on. We recommend that you add it to your bookmarks.
Text and readings: The primary text for the course will be Concrete Abstractions: An Introduction to Computer Science by Max Hailperin, Barbara Kaiser, and Karl Knight. We will cover chapters 10-15.
There's also an on-line Java Tutorial at
and copies of Arnold and Gosling's The Java Programming
Language book and Cornell and Horstmann's Core Java book in
the MCS Lab monitors' room, any of which you are welcome to use as a
supplement to the material on Java in our book.
Classes: Classes will be used for lectures, problem solving,
discussions, and other fun activities. Labs will be used for working on
projects. You should prepare for each of these by doing the reading,
thinking about the problems in the text or project assignment, and
formulating questions of your own.
Attendance, both physical and mental, is required. Should you need to miss a class because of an illness or a personal emergency, you are still responsible for the material covered in that class. This means that you will need to make sure that you understand the reading for that day, that you should ask a friend for the notes from that day, and make sure that you understand what was covered. If there is an assignment due that day, you should be sure to have a friend hand it in or put it in my departmental mailbox (in Olin 324). You do not need to tell me why you missed a class unless there is a compelling reason for me to know. Although I will not be regularly taking attendance in class, I will lower a student's grade for chronic non-attendance or lateness.Mastery homework: I have decided to try having the homework done as mastery problems this year. This is an approach (explained below) used by several other members of the department (I first heard the term "mastery problems" from Max). As such, I am going to borrow Max's approach and (with slight modifications) his explanation from one of his syllabi:
The schedule shows due dates for six 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 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 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
Projects: You will have six programming projects
throughout the semester.
Much, but not all, of the work for these projects can be done during
lab time. During this time, you will be able to ask the lab instructor
( San Skulrattanakulchai) for help or guidance.
The lab instructor will also be the one who grades the reports.
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 very liberal policy is intended to accommodate illness or serious conflict. Please do not ask for additional exceptions unless your situation is unusual.)
Attendance is expected for all lab days.
I will excuse up to three lab days for any reason, so you should use
those days wisely. After that, I will decrease your grade in some
manner proportional to the days you have missed, up to a full letter
grade. I will also count off for lateness in some manner. If you turn
in your lab assignment early, you needn't
attend the remaining days devoted to the lab.
Determination of course grade: I will provide you with a letter or number grade on each lab 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 components will contribute in the following proportion to the final grade:
Exams: The two intra-term exams will be conducted during the evening from 7:00-8:3Opm on Thursday, March 10 and Thursday, April 14. Please let me know as soon as possible if you won't be able to take the tests at those times. The final exam will be as scheduled by the registrar; tentatively it is scheduled for 3:30 - 5:30 pm on Monday, May 23.
Grade changes: Please point out any arithmetic or clerical error I make in grading, and I will gladly fix it. You may also request reconsideration if I have been especially unjust.
Honor: You are expected to to adhere to the highest standards of academic honesty, to uphold the Gustavus Honor Code and to abide by the Academic Honesty Policy. Copies of the honor code and academic honesty policy can be found in Academic Bulletin and in the Gustie Guide.
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.
We expect that you do your lab projects on your own. 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.
Accessibility: Please contact me during the first week
of class if you have specific physical, psychiatric, or learning
and require accommodations. All discussions will remain
confidential. You can provide documentation of your disability to the
Advising Center (204 Johnson Student Union) or call Laurie Bickett