This course is an introduction to computational thinking: how we can describe and solve problems using a computer. The Visual Media section will focus on generating complex and interesting scenes and images through writing well-constructed programs. These applications will motivate how and why we would would want to write procedures, control the flow of information and processes, and organize information for easy access and manipulation. Through lectures, short homeworks, and weekly programming projects, you will learn about abstraction, how to divide and organize a process into appropriate components, how to describe processes in a computer language, and how to analyze and understand the behavior of their programs. While the projects are focused on visual media, the computational thinking skills you learn in this course are applicable to any type of programming or program design you may undertake in the future.

Credits 4
Semester Fall 2018
Date Time, Location
  • MWF 10:00 - 10:50 am, Lovejoy 215
Lecture Instructor Oliver W. Layton
Office: Davis 115
Office Hours
M,T 1:00pm - 3:30pm
W 3:00pm - 4:00pm
F  1:00pm - 2:00pm
Evenings: TBA
If my door is open, please come in!
Lab Instructor Stephanie Taylor
Office: Davis 114
Office Hours
M 10-12, possibly also 4-5
T 10:45-11:45
W 2:30-4:00
R 10:45-11:45 and 4:00-5:00
Evening TAs Location: Davis 102
Date (Time) TA
Sunday, 4:00 - 7:00 Allen Ma
Sunday, 7:00 - 10:00 Riley Karp
Sunday, 7:00 - 10:00 Prashant, Owen Goldthwaite
Monday, 4:00 - 7:00 Jackie Hang
Monday, 7:00 - 10:00 Brandon Troisi , Maan Qraitem
Monday, 7:00 - 10:00 Max Abramson (Davis 122)
Tuesday, 4:00 - 7:00 Melody Mao
Tuesday, 7:00 - 10:00 Aziz Ghadiali
Tuesday, 7:00 - 10:00 Brit Biddle, Shafat Raman,
Chris Marcello , Lucas DeGraw
Course Goals
  1. Students can read a simple program and correctly identify its behavior
  2. Students can convert a problem statement into a working program that solves the problem.
  3. Students understand abstraction and can break down a program into appropriate procedural and object-oriented components
  4. Students can generate an approximate model of computer memory and describe how an algorithm affects its contents.
  5. Students can communicate the result of their work and describe an algorithm
Weekly Homework
  • I will distribute short weekly homework assignments every Monday after class. They will be posted on the Lecture Notes tab on this website.
  • The homeworks prepare you for the quiz on Friday!
  • The deadline is Thursday at noon (12pm). This is a hard deadline, because we may discuss solutions in class on Friday before the quiz.
    Late submissions will not be accepted.
  • Homework will be graded in a binary fashion: if you hand in a reasonable attempt, you get a 1, otherwise a 0.
  • I will post homework solutions on Thursday afternoon to help you study for the quiz! You will be able to find them on Solutions/.
  • Please name your homework submission file as follows: name_hw_NUMBER (e.g. owlayton_hw_1).
  • Please upload your homework file to your folder on the Courses Filer:
Weekly Programming Projects
  • Larger programming projects are assigned every Wednesday, unless otherwise noted.
  • The projects give you a chance to take the concepts we learn in class and apply them to create real works of digital art!
  • The usual deadline is the following Tuesday midnight (Tuesday at 11:59pm).
  • Projects are graded based on a 30 point scale. Late projects will receive a maximum score of 25/30, so handing in something on the due date is generally better than handing in a complete assignment late.
  • The last day to turn in late projects for credit is Wednesday December 12 11:59pm.
  • I understand that you have busy schedules. You are allowed to have one free three-day extension that can be used at your discretion over the course of the semester, except for the final project. That means you may choose to hand in one project on Friday instead of Tuesday. Please email both Oliver and Stephanie to let them know you are taking your extension before the deadline.
  • Please name your homework submission file as follows: name_homework_NUMBER (e.g. owlayton_hw1).
  • Please upload your project source code to the Courses Filer: NUMBER, where NUMBER is the project number (e.g. 1,2,3,...).
  • Please submit your written project reports on the class wiki ( Remember to tag your wiki page!
  • Weekly quizzes: There will be a 15 minute quiz every Friday. The quizzes let you show us what you have learned. Everyone has a bad day; the lowest two quizzes will be dropped. You may make up a missed quiz only if you email one of the professors before class to let us know you will not be there and to request a time when you can make up the quiz. It is imperative that you let us know before class begins.
  • Final exam: It will be on Monday December 17th at 9:00am.
Class Participation You are expected to attend every class. The course will involve both lectures and hands-on activities in lab. For this course to be truly successful, your presence and participation in lecture and lab is important. When you have a question, ask it. It is highly probable that one of your classmates has the same question. When we give you an opportunity to share your opinion or your answer, please speak up. We want to hear what you have to say. Discussion is a vital part of the learning experience. Good class discussion needs your contribution. If you must miss a class, you are responsible for making up the material covered in that lecture.

In this course there will be regular opportunities for you to practice what you have learned and to demonstrate your accomplishments. Below, is a short description of each opportunity, along with the percentage of your final course grade it represents.

The course grade will be determined as follows:

Labs with Programming Projects 45% Weekly, hands-on, supervised learning. You will begin a programming assignment in each lab. It will be due the following Tuesday night (see above)
Quizzes 25% Short weekly in-class quizzes (given on Fridays)
Short homework assignments 5% Assigned each Monday (due on Thursday; see above), it will help you prepare for the quiz each Friday.
Participation 5% Ask questions, answer questions, join in discussions, attend lectures and labs.
Final Exam 20% A 3-hour opportunity at the end of the semester to demonstrate your ability to answer questions about course material.
How to succeed

Labs and Projects: Come to lab ready to focus on the new project. Ask the lab instructor and TA for help if you need it. Talk to your peers about the course concepts.

The grading policy on projects is that the tasks specified explicitly in the lab and project descriptions will constitute about 85% of the assignment. If you complete the specified parts of the assignment properly, and produce a high-quality writeup, it's worth up to a B+ grade. In addition, the written instructions will include a variety of extensions to the assignment, or you can come up with your own. Completing one or more extensions, in addition to the specified parts of the assignment, will earn you some flavor of A. Extensions are not required.

Once during the semester, except for Projects 6 or 11, you may take a 3-day extension, handing it in on Friday instead of Tuesday. All you have to do is send an email to one of the professors letting them know you are taking your extension prior to the Tuesday night deadline. You will have an extra week to complete Project 6 (due after October break) and Project 11 (the last project of the semester) will be due on the Friday after the normal Tuesday deadline.

Quizzes: Study for the quizzes by doing the homeworks. We will drop the lowest two quiz grades. If you make a silly mistake one week, it won't affect your grade.

Short homeworks: Try them. You will receive full credit as long as you make an honest attempt to complete every question. Please ask or email questions to the professor if something isn't clear (see 30-Minute Rule below). As long as you submit your response by Thursday at noon on, you will get credit. Review the homework solutions on Thursday afternoon to check your understanding of the material before the quiz. There is no partial credit for late homeworks because we may go over the answers in class on Friday before you take the quiz.

Participation: Speak up in class. Come to office hours. Ask your your instructor or TA for help.

Final Exam: The final exam will be similar to a large set of quizzes (but written from a more wholistic perspective). The best way to study for the final exam is to retake all of the old quizzes (and quizzes from old semesters). Also, read through your notes and make sure you understand everything in them.

For more information about expectations and the assignment of grades, see this document.

Help and Discussion Outside of Lecture
  • Office Hours: Oliver and Stephanie will all be available to help outside of class time with questions about concepts or projects. Please do not hesitate to stop by our offices, or send us an email. Not only do we enjoy talking about computer science, we want to get to know you!

    In addition to coming by our offices for help, you are welcome to send us email with a question. We read our email frequently and respond to questions as soon as possible.

  • Evening TA Help: In order to provide as much help as possible to you as you work on assignments in this course, the CS Department has hired upper-level CS students to work as TAs in the Davis 102 lab in the evenings . You are strongly encouraged to take advantage of this resource. The TAs are getting paid to help you, so don't feel guilty about asking them for help. See the section above called Evening TAs for specific times.
  • Guidelines:
    • 30-Minute Rule: If you have been stuck on a problem, such as a bug, for more than 30 minutes and have made no progress, despite your best efforts, please stop and get help. Email one of us, ask a TA, or consult a peer. If you don't get an answer immediately, do something else for a while. Please do not waste your time on one problem.
    • We are always happy to help you with any of your code for your projects. However, the earlier you come to us with questions, the happier we'll be to help you (we usually respond to a last-minute call for major help with the question "Why didn't you start earlier?").
    • Please feel free to raise any concerns or complaints about the course directly with either of us. You are also welcome to send us your concerns anonymously. We will gladly respond to them

We will use the Python computer language (v3.7) as the basis for the course, with weekly lab sessions to provide hands-on, supervised learning. You will be using a text editor (e.g. VS Code, TextWrangler) to write your code. Some projects may also use other free software that you can install on your computer. The computers in Davis 101 and 102 are equipped with all necessary software and you can access the building and the labs 24/7 during the semester.


It should go without saying that you should back up any files related to this course. If the code you submit to us is somehow lost (through your fault or our fault), we must be able to get another copy from you. We suggest you use the college's personal server ( to store your work in this class, as it is regularly backed up.


The following textbook is recommended as an additional resource, but is not required. Note that the first edition is geared for a different version of Python (2nd or 3rd edition are ok).

John Zelle, Python Programming: An Introduction to Computer Science

Check out the Reference Materials link at the top for links to free, on-line resources for learning Python and basic CS concepts.

  • If you come across a Python word or function that you are unfamiliar with, you should know how to look it up in online documentation or in a Python reference book. There is a section of helpful links on the course information page. If you have trouble finding the documentation you need, feel free to come see us, but we expect you to try to look up the documentation yourself first.
  • It should also go without saying that you should never leave your work in a public folder on a computer in a public lab. Instead your work should always be kept in your private account or copied to your own media such as flash drives and deleted from the computer's hard disk when you are finished using the computer.
  • Don't gloss over errors in your code. That is, if you pretend there are no errors in your code when you know there are some there, we will take off more points than if you point out the errors that you were unable to fix.
Collaboration, Academic honesty

Computer science, both academically and professionally, is a collaborative discipline. In any collaboration, however, all parties are expected to make their own contributions and to generously credit the contributions of others. In our class, therefore, collaboration on homework and programming assignments is encouraged, but you as an individual are responsible for understanding all the material in the assignment and doing your own work. Always strive to do your best, give generous credit to others, start early, and seek help early from both your professors and classmates.

The following rules are intended to help you get the most out of your education and to clarify the line between honest and dishonest work. We reserve the right to ask you to verbally explain the reasoning behind any answer or code that you turn in and to modify your project grade based on your answers. It is vitally important that you turn in work that is your own. We do use automated plagiarism detection software, so please be sure to abide by these, rather minimal, rules. Reports of academic dishonesty are handled by an academic review board and a finding of academic dishonesty may result in significant sanctions. For more details on Colby's Academic Integrity policies and procedures, see

  • If you have had a substantive discussion of any homework or programming solution with a classmate, then be sure to cite them in your write-up. If you are unsure of what constitutes "substantive", then ask me or err on the side of caution. As one rule of thumb, if you see more than 10 lines of someone else's code, then you should cite them. You will not be penalized for working together.
  • You must not copy answers or code from another student either by hand or electronically. Another way to think about it is that you should be talking English with one another, not program languages.
The Colby Affirmation

Colby College is a community dedicated to learning and committed to the growth and well-being of all its members.

As a community devoted to intellectual growth, we value academic integrity. We agree to take ownership of our academic work, to submit only work that is our own, to fully acknowledge the research and ideas of others in our work, and to abide by the instructions and regulations governing academic work established by the faculty.

As a community built on respect for ourselves, each other, and our physical environment, we recognize the diversity of people that have gathered here and that genuine inclusivity requires active, honest, and compassionate engagement with one another. We agree to respect each other, to honor community expectations, and to comply with college policies.

As a member of this community, I pledge to hold myself and others accountable to these values.

What does this mean to students?

  • We respect each other and ourselves.
  • We respect our physical spaces on campus.
  • We respect our academics and complete work honestly.
Title IX Statement

Colby College prohibits and will not tolerate sexual misconduct or gender-based discrimination of any kind. Colby is legally obligated to investigate sexual misconduct (including, but not limited to sexual assault and sexual harassment).

If you wish to speak confidentially about an incident of sexual misconduct, please contact Colby Counseling Services (207-859-4490) or the Director of the Gender and Sexual Diversity Program, Emily Schusterbauer (207-859-4093).

Students should be aware that faculty members are considered responsible employees; as such, if you disclose an incident of sexual misconduct to a faculty member, they have an obligation to report it to Colby's Title IX Coordinator. "Disclosure" may include communication in-person, via email/phone/text, or through class assignments.

To learn more about sexual misconduct or report an incident, visit

Academic Accommodations

I am available to discuss academic accommodations that any student with a documented disability may require. Please note that you’ll need to provide a letter from the Dean of Studies Office documenting your approved accommodations. Please meet with me within two weeks of the start of the semester to make a request for accommodations so that we can work together with the College to make the appropriate arrangements for you. Kate McLaughlin, Associate Director of Access and Disability Services is the primary contact for accommodations and any questions related to educational testing and documentation.

Mental health. I care about my students' well-being and understand that they may face mental health challenges. Students are encouraged to seek support from the College's available resources, including your advising dean and Counseling Services. (For immediate care, please call 207-859-4490 and press "0" to reach the on-call counselor). I am willing to discuss reasonable accommodations during a crisis, but to fulfill our educational mission, students are expected to adhere to the attendance policy. Failure to do so because of mental health challenges may require consultation with the Dean of Studies Office.

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