Introducing Computer Science in a Summer Science Program

Carl Burch
St John's U, MN


handout (PDF)

Comments in italics are my own aside comments for my memory.


About PGSS

Typical schedule

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

Course goals


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:

Gender equity

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.