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CS 2120: Class #2

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CS 2120: Class #1

What will I learn?

The short version:

  • How to program a computer (using the Python language).
  • How to use programming to solve problems in your own life/research/work.
  • A little bit about the magic “under the hood” of the computer.
  • A little bit about the discipline of computer science.
  • How to be a 21st century citizen.

The long version is in the course outline.

What prerequisites do I need?

  • Curiosity
  • A desire to learn a powerful new skill
  • A desire to distinguish yourself from peers in your discipline


Can anyone name an area of Science where they think having computer programming skill would be a bad thing? How about Social Science? Humanities? Art? Work with your neighbours.

Why are the course notes a website?

  • You’re going to learn Python
  • A nice thing about Python is that it has a vast collection of libraries to do useful things.
  • Most of those libraries are documented with something called Sphinx.
  • The course notes are made with Sphinx.
  • The idea: get used to reading material in this format. It’ll be useful to you.

I don’t know if this is a good idea yet or not. I usually use Keynote for course slides. We’re going to find out together.

How will this class work?

This class is going to be run somewhat differently from other courses you may have experienced at Western. We’re going to be using a “partially flipped” classroom, with a “microlecture” format and lots of in class hands-on time.

There are a few reasons for this:

  • It’s been demonstrated that students from classes using the microlecture/work format outperform students from traditional lecture classes. The students are also report being happier and more engaged.
  • Listening to a lecturer droning on for two hours isn’t very engaging.
  • You get better value for your tuition dollar (what can a lecture give you that a Khan academy video or a textbook can’t?).

A standard class works like this:

  • I lecture for two hours.
  • You get bored 10 minutes in and start thinking about products you might like to purchase.
  • I keep going.

Our class will work like this:

  • You’ll be offered suggested readings every week.
  • You do the reading (or not, your choice... though I recommend it).
  • I give a ~5 minute microlecture on a topic from the readings.
  • I give the class a problem to solve, based on the microlecture.
  • You work with your neighbours in class to solve the problem in ~5 minutes.
  • I walk around and interact with the class. Answering questions, giving pointers, etc.
  • We repeat this process until the time is up for the day.

We’ve already done this once already, but let’s try it again:


Have a chat with the people sitting around you. What are their majors? Why are they taking this class?

What should I bring to class

  • Curiosity
  • Readiness to do stuff, rather than just listen
  • A laptop (if you want) or ...
  • ... a smartphone (Android and iOS devices have Python interpreters available) or ...
  • ... pen and paper (the weapon of choice of some of the greatest programmers in past generations)

Just to be crystal clear: you do not need to bring a laptop to class. If you have one, though, and you’re keen to get the most out of the class, it’s worth considering.

What is Edmodo?

  • A site originally aimed at K-12 educators (so forgive some of the cheesyness)
  • It looks like Facebook (on purpose) and so presents an interface that is familiar to many.
  • Where I will be running the course.
  • Course announcements will be made on Edmodo
  • Assignments will be submitted on Edmodo
  • Help will be given, at all hours of the day & night, on Edmodo.
  • Have a question? Post it to the wall!
  • Found a cool link that’s relevant to the course? Post it on the wall!
  • I’ve used Edmodo twice before and it’s been the most effective “e-learning thingy” I’ve ever tried. Hands down.

Can I write a program now?

Yes. Load up Python, and type this:

print "Hello, world!"

Whoa there, cowboy


All cool?

  • Go back and run the “Hello, world!” program.
  • You’re now officially a computer programmer!

For next week