St John's U, MN
Comments in italics are my own aside comments for my memory.
Students are very busy. Three weeks in, they're already short on sleep. By the end, most are truly exhausted.
Today I am discussing the CS core course. It's a small part of the entire PGSS academic experience: Each student attends the four sessions for each of the first four weeks. All 90 students are in the same class
1 Introduction, algorithms 2 Programming Self-study 3 fundamentals exercises 4 " " 1 " " 2 " " 3 " " 4 Recursion " 1 Game playing 2 Internet 3 " 4 Cryptography 1 Big-O notation 2 Algorithms 3 " 4 Conclusion, quiz
The handout (PDF) outlines the details of these topics.
While discussing programming fundamentals, the more experienced students go to the cluster to work on a sequence of exercises. After a couple of relatively simple procedural-programming exercises, there are a couple of recursion exercises, which have proven to be a challenge.
I'm planning on covering computability instead of big-O notation and algorithms, which have proved to have a high overhead before you get to the more fun stuff. The neat aspects of computability - automata, the Church-Turing thesis, and the halting problem - are more accessible.
The handout (PDF) describes the assignments in more detail.
Student responses on end-of-course evaluations:
14 among best courses even taken 36 more/better than average (for PGSS) 30 average (for PGSS) 9 less/worse than average (for PGSS) 0 almost nothingCross-analysis with student experience shows not much difference based on previous experience.
Assn 0 3.57 Assn 1 3.85 Assn 2 4.02
difficulty interesting programming 3.17 3.36 self-study 3.35 3.47 Internet 2.89 3.40 cryptography 3.32 3.61 game playing 3.25 3.64 big O 3.46 2.87 algorithms 3.42 2.86
I have done no systematic analysis of females vs males, but PGSS - with its 50/50 gender ratio, all of talented, technically minded individuals - provides an interesting field for analysis.
One evaluation comment: ``I was very worried about the CS core course because I had never programmed before... I am much more computer literate than I was 4 weeks ago!''
My observations at PGSS lead me to believe that a required computer science course for all students - even just half a semester long - could help open the field to women and other groups. Among female students at PGSS, I do not perceive much disinterest; I do perceive concern about the ability to succeed in CS classes, a worry that leads to avoiding the subject altogether.