Functional Problem Solving (CSC 151 2013F) : Home

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Welcome to one of the Fall 2013 sessions of Grinnell College's CSC 151, Functional Problem Solving, which is described relatively briefly in the official blurb. My own take on this course is that we'll be starting to develop your knowledge of computer science and algorithmic problem solving. We will be using Scheme as our development language, which gives us the abililty to use functional approaches (as well as imperative and object-oriented approaches). As in all Grinnell classes, we'll also be working on general skills, from group work to thinking on your feet.

Starting about six years ago, we developed a new approach to CSC151. In both sections of the course, we will be emphasizing media computation - the application of algorithmic problem solving techniques to media. We will particularly emphasize algorithms for creating and manipulating images.

CSC 151 requires no prior knowledge of computer science or computer programming. We'll teach you everything we want you to know. It's okay if you have some experience (although at times it may put you at a disadvantage - we do things differently), but it's clearly not necessary.

In an attempt to provide up-to-date information, and to spare a few trees, I am making this as much of a “paperless” course as I can. Hence, materials will be in a course web. If you are puzzled by the organization of the Course Web, browse a bit and then ask me. If you find that you want paper copies of pages, please read the notes on printing copies. If you find that you are regularly printing pages, let me know and I can provide them for you.

Important Warnings

Warning! Experience shows that CSC151 exercises different parts of your brain than other courses, even than math courses. In general, such exercise is a good thing - one of the key points of a liberal arts education is that it exercises different parts of your brain. However, it may take a bit of time to get these new parts of your brain into shape. Expect a few difficult times, but have confidence that you can get through them and that you'll come out of the course with much more knowledge.

Warning! Computers are sentient, stupid, and malicious. When things go wrong, don't blame yourself. Ask me, a tutor, or the class mentor for help.

Warning! We are using some cutting-edge software, which means that things will occasionally crash for no good reason.


Meets: MTF 1:15-2:05, Science 3813; W 1:15-2:05, Science 3815

Instructor: Samuel A. Rebelsky [rebelsky], Science 3824. 269-4410 (office). 236-7445 (home). Office hours: M 2:15-4:05, Tu 2:15-2:45, W 2:15-2:45, F 3:15-4:05. I may add additional Tuesday morning hours. I also tend to follow an open door policy: Feel free to stop by when my door is open or to make an appointment for another time.

Class Mentors: Chike Abuah (MTWF), Alex Greenberg (MWF), Jennelle Nystrom (Tu). Office hours TBD.

Grading (subject to change):

  • Class participation: 10%;
  • Regular homework: 5%;
  • Lab writeups: 5%
  • Project: 15%;
  • Quizzes: 10%;
  • Exams: 45% (3 graded exams plus optional final);
  • Best of (project, average exam, final): 5%.
  • Best of (homework, writeups, quizzes): 5%.

The final examination for this course is optional. It can be used as a makeup for one examination. I will count the final examination only if it is higher than your lowest examination, and it will replace the grade for that examination. The final examination is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday, 17 December 2013. Students who have a conflicting examination may take it instead at 9:00 a.m. on Thursday, 19 December 2013.

I will drop the grade on one quiz (the quiz with the lowest grade).

More information on grading can be found in the grading policies page.

Labs: Computer science 151 is taught in a collaborative workshop style. Each day, you'll work on laboratory problems with other students in the class. We may also start or end each class session with a short lecture/discussion or a clicker activity. Some labs will require short writeups, which you will do with your lab partner.

Extra Credit: I will often offer 1/2 point of extra credit for attending a particular talk (e.g., a computer science talk or College convocation) or for supporting your classmates in their public endeavors (e.g., attending a concert or a dance recital). Each category is capped at 1.5 points. For any activity you wish to credit this way, you must send me a short (one paragraph) note about the activity within two days of the activity.

Tutoring: The CS Lab makes tutors for 151 available at regularly scheduled times. As soon as tutors have been scheduled, I'll let you know what those times are (and post them on this page).

Good-Faith Grade Guarantee: Because I realize that computer science does not “click” with all students, I reward effort as well as outcome. Hence, students who make a “good faith” effort in this class will pass the class, with at least a C+. A good-faith effort includes missing no more than two classes, turning in every homework assignment, and spending the requisite time on each examination.

Class Software: For this course, we will be using DrRacket and The GNU Image Manipulation Program, along with some locally written extensions. It will be hard to run the software outside of the Computer Science department's network (or the Math/Stats department's network). We recommend that you work in our labs for the ability to get help. If you must work remotely, we recommend that you use VNC.

Printing Pages: Most of the pages in the course web are designed for viewing onscreen. If you'd like to print them, you may want to use PDF versions, which are designed for paper. To find the PDF version, simply replace the html at the end of the URL with pdf. If you do decide to print, you should consider printing the document double-sided and two-up (that is, two pages side-by-side on one physical page) so as to conserve paper. When I distribute documents, I will do my best to distribute them in this form.

Optional Books and Other Readings

Kelsey, Richard, Clinger, William, and Rees, Jonathan, eds. (1998). Revised5 Report on the Algorithmic Language Scheme. February 20, 1998.

The concise and complete definition of the last concise version of the Scheme programming language. You won't need to understand all of it, but you may find it helpful.

Dybvig, R. Kent. The Scheme Programming Language, Fourth Edition. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. Available online at

A longer and more readable reference on the Scheme programming language.

Rebelsky, Samuel (2013). The CS151.02 2013F Course Web.

The hypertext that you are currently reading. Many of these materials (particularly those under Readings and Labs are required. You should make it a point to load the page of the day at the beginning of each class to check announcements and such.

Davis, Janet (2013) The CSC 151.01 2013F Course Web.

The course web for the other section of this course.

Samuel A. Rebelsky,

Copyright (c) 2007-2013 Janet Davis, Samuel A. Rebelsky, and Jerod Weinman. (Selected materials are copyright by John David Stone or Henry Walker and are used with permission.)

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