Syllabus, CMPSC 8, Fall 2017

Basic Facts

Required Resources

Official UCSB Catalog Description

CMPSC 8: Introduction to Computer Science

Not open for credit to students who have completed Computer Science 16 or Engineering 3.

Introduction to computer program development for students with little to no programming experience. Basic programming concepts, variables and expressions, data and control structures, algorithms, debugging, program design, and documentation.

A Few Course Policies In Brief

You may NOT:

What this course is about

This course is an introduction to Computer Science, and programming.

Computer Science is the study of abstractions and algorithms.

You probably use abstractions and algorithms every day—for example:

Algorithms have to be both designed, and "coded" so the computer can carry them out

In the case of using an index, this is probably an algorithm you may have learned in grade school, and it has been so long since you learned it, that now you don’t even think about it—you just do it. Finding a space in a parking lot—and knowing when to give up and look elsewhere—is "just common sense"; this probably isn’t something you were ever "taught", or even have to think very much about. You just do it.

Computers don’t currently have this capability—i.e. the capability to "pick up things by common sense"—and it seems unlikely that they will within our lifetime—unless there are major breakthroughs in the field of Artificial Intelligence. Such breakthroughs have been predicted for a while, but they haven’t happened yet. (Maybe you’ll be the one to figure out how to achieve this!)

So, for the time being at least, it falls to humans to design algorithms that computers can use to solve problems. In many cases, these algorithms are "just common sense"—the computer equivalent of looking for an empty parking space in a parking lot (and knowing when to give up). Algorithms like this are easy to design. Many of the algorithms we’ll see in this course are like that.

In other cases, the algorithms are very complex, or very subtle, and coming up with them is a deep intellectual challenge. Furthermore, the impact of a better algorithm on society can be very large. For example, new algorithms in the field of computational science—modeling chemical and biological reactions with computer simulations—can lead to breakthroughs such as new drugs to fight disease, or renewable sources of energy.

And often, what goes along with finding a good algorithm is finding a good abstraction of the real world concepts we are interested in: cells, molecules, oil fields, words, sentences, students, courses, GPAs, etc. Algorithms and abstractions really go hand-in-hand.

Coding, or Writing Software, or Programming

Coding is expressing algorithms in a programming language.

Human languages such as English and Spanish are not very well suited for expressing algorithms—at least not for expressing them to a computer (they have their problems for communicating with humans too!). So, special languages are used. In this course, we’ll learn the Python programming language. We choose Python rather than Java or C++ because:

This course provides you with the opportunity to become a pretty good beginning programmer, and be well prepared for an intermediate programming course such as CS16 (the first course that counts towards the CS major at UCSB, and which requires at least one quarter of prior programming experience.)

I say that the course "provides an opportunity," because you will only become a good beginning-level programmer if you put a lot of time and effort into this course—that is true no matter how much thought and attention I put in my lectures, assignments, and exams

The swimming/guitar/painting analogy

You cannot learn to swim, play guitar, or paint from a textbook or a lecture. You can only:

The same is true of programming. Programming is not a series of facts to be memorized—you cannot "cram" for a computer science exam. You must practice, practice, practice.


What you need to learn to become
a skilled beginning level programmer

So, what is it that you need to know to be a skilled beginning-level programmer in Python? Here’s the list of what you’ll need to be ready for CMPSC 16 (aka CS16, the next programming course):

  • Problem solving
    • breaking down a problem into a sequence of steps
    • abstracting specific problems into general ones
      and finding general solutions
  • Memory concepts
    • variables, primitive vs. reference variables, name, type, value
    • assignment statements
    • scope of variables
  • Control structures
    • for loops, if/else, while loops
  • Lists in Python (similar to arrays in other languages)
    • index vs. value, finding sum, min, max, average, count of elements matching some condition, making a new list of elements containing only those that match some condition
  • Functions
    • function call vs. function definition
    • formal vs. actual parameters (arguments)
  • Testing
    • How to test your code
  • Input/output concepts
    • Writing to the terminal
    • Reading from the keyboard
    • Reading and writing to files
    • Neatly formatting output
  • Program style
    • How to write code that other people can read and understand

Final Course Grades

The formula to determine your course grade average is explained in the table below.

Regardless of any other policies spelled out here, the average used to determine your final letter grade may be no higher than one full letter grade higher than your exam average.


To convert final averages to letter grades, a standard 10 point scale will be used, with the upper and lower ends of each range as +/- grades, except for A+ grades, see below. There is no “rounding up”; a grade of 86.9999 is a B and a grade of 87.0000 is a B+.

A+ grades: These may be awarded to the very best performing students in the class—but the cutoff for A+ grades will be determined at the end of the course at the discretion of the instructor (there is no pre-determined cutoff—an average of 97 or more doesn’t guarantee you an A+ grade.)

Grade Item Percentage of Final Grade
Midterm (2) 20 %
Lab Exams (2) 20 %
Final 30 %
Hwks 5%
Labs 13%
Project 10 %
iclickers 2 %



This course moves quickly. So attendance is very important. This is even more true in the summer.

As a result, there will be something you have to turn in at almost every class. In this way, attendance is taken, and required.

These things you have to turn in will be a combination of in-class activities, and homework completed outside of class, but handed in on paper during class.

Missing homework/in-class activities: Drop the lowest 4

If you miss a class, you miss the opportunity for the points on that in-class assignment, or homework that was due. Period.

There is no makeup. In lieu of providing a makeup opportunity, I will drop the lowest 4 homework/in-class-assignment grades (which may be zeros if you miss an assignment.) Each homework and in-class-activity will be of equal value (100 pts).

Notes sheets on exams

Questions about grades

Summary: regrade requests must be made only on GradeScope, and always within one week.

From time to time, the people who grade your papers may make clerical errors in grading (e.g. adding up points wrong or applying a rubric incorrectly.) For this reason, you are encouraged to review your grades as they are posted to Gradescope and Gauchospace. You will typically get an email as soon as each grade is posted. From the time the grade is posted, you will have one calendar week to post regrade requests. These must be made ONLY through Gradescope, ON the correct problem. (Don’t request a regrade for question 4 on the page for question 7.)

Please note that regrade requests based on clerical errors or applying a rubric incorrectly are always welcome. Over the course of the quarter, we’ll grade over 10,000 individual problems, so it is unlikely that we won’t make at least some mistakes.

More problematic are challenges to the rubric itself, e.g. “I don’t think you should have taken off so many points for that error” or “I think I deserve more partial credit for that incorrect answer”. The instructor and TA will always listen, but please know that we’ve put a great deal of thought, time and experience into determining the rubric, and we’ve done our best to apply it to all students equitably. You may have a different point of view, we will not always agree with your assessment—in fact, we seldom will. As such, regrade requests on this basis are not encouraged. It is important to approach such conversations in a respectful manner, accepting that the instructor, TA and grader have been given responsibility for determining course standards, and applying those in a fair way to all students.

In any case, once the two week deadline for challenges has passed, each grade becomes final—and it is your responsibility to come to scheduled TA or instructor office hours to have this discussion. If you cannot make office hours, you may request an appointment, but you must request the appointment within ONE WEEK of the assignment being posted. If you wait until the last office hours opportunity during the two week window, and you are not able to be seen (e.g. because of a long line of students), then you lose the right to appeal your grade.


Late Labs

The policy is simple, and is based on the idea that the primary purpose of the deadlines is to allow the TA manage his/her workload. The number of labs in this course requires that he/she not have to do “context switching” between grading different labs. All labs must be graded in one sitting, or he/she just won’t be able to keep up with the workload.


Accommodations for disabilities

Students with disabilities may request academic accommodations for exams online through the UCSB Disabled Students Program at Please make your requests for exam accommodations through the online system as early in the quarter as possible to ensure proper arrangement.

Managing stress

Personal concerns such as stress, anxiety, relationships, depression, cultural differences, can interfere with the ability of students to succeed and thrive. For helpful resources, please contact UCSB Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) at 805-893-4411 or visit .

Responsible scholarship

Honesty and integrity in all academic work is essential for a valuable educational experience. The Office of Judicial Affairs has policies, tips, and resources for proper citation use, recognizing actions considered to be cheating or other forms of academic theft, and students’ responsibilities, available on their website at: Students are responsible for educating themselves on the policies and to abide by them.

Furthermore, for general academic support, students are encouraged to visit Campus Learning Assistance Services (CLAS) early and often. CLAS offers instructional groups, drop-in tutoring, writing and ESL services, skills workshops and one-on-one consultations. CLAS is located on the third floor of the Student Resource Building, or visit

Python cartoon

(Image credit: Randall Munro

Standard Disclaimer

This syllabus is as accurate as possible, but is subject to change at the instructor’s discretion, within the bounds of UC policy.

(end of syllabus)