Functional Problem Solving

CSC 151-02
Grinnell College
Spring 2009
MTuWF 10-10:50, SCI 3813
Instructor: Janet Davis (office hours posted outside my door or by appointment; contact me)
Mentor: Cyrus Witthaus (office hours Tuesday 7:30 - 8:30 p.m.;
Tutors will be available in SCI 3813 Monday and Tuesday from 8 to 10 p.m. and Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 9 to 10 p.m.


About this course

Welcome to CSC 151! The official course description:

A lab-based introduction to basic ideas of computer science, including recursion, abstraction, scope and binding, modularity, the design and analysis of algorithms, and the fundamentals of programming in a high-level, functional language. Includes formal laboratory work. Prerequisite: none. STAFF.

A course very much like this one is the reason that I became a computer scientist.  I'm very excited to be teaching this course, and I hope to share some of that excitement with you.  My goal for this class is that you will begin to learn how computer scientists solve problems. We will be using Scheme as our first programming language; if you have already programmed before, chances are excellent you will still find new ideas in Scheme.

This semester, the class will revolve around media computation: using computers to manipulate digital media, particularly images. In my experience, this has been a lot of fun! I encourage you to go beyond what you learn in class to explore your own ideas. 

We have a brand-new development environment this semester, MediaScheme, built by my colleague Sam Rebelsky and Soren Berg '08. Although it is a huge improvement over the tools we have been using, and we do not anticipate any particular problems, it is still a work in progress. If you run into problems with the software, please (a) don't blame yourself; (b) let me know ASAP; and (c) be patient!

How to be successful in this class

Experience shows that CSC 151 exercises different parts of your brain than other courses (even math and science courses). Expect some difficult times, but have confidence that you can work through them and that you'll come out of the course with new skills and knowledge.

Like learning a foreign language, learning in this course is cumulative: New ideas often build on ideas from earlier in the course. You should complete the labs after class and review the exercises to make sure you understand them. The weekly quizzes are also intended to check that everyone is on the same page. If you feel like you've missed something important, please come talk with me ASAP.

Computers have no common sense or compassion. They are complex, and sometimes they do things we don't expect. When things go horribly wrong, don't blame yourself. Ask me or a tutor for help.

Optional books and other readings

Kelsey, Richard, Clinger, William, and Rees, Jonathan, eds. (1998). Revised5 Report on the Algorithmic Language Scheme [HTML] [PDF]. February 20, 1998. The concise and complete definition of the Scheme programming language. You won't need to understand all of it, but you'll find it helpful to keep it by your side.

Rice University Programming Languages Team (1999). PLT DrScheme: Programming Environment Manual. The guide to the Scheme development environment we'll be using.

Optional: Springer, George and Friedman, Daniel P. (1989). Scheme and the Art of Programming. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. The textbook that was formerly used in the class.

Optional: Felleisen, Matthias, Findler, Robert Bruce, Flatt, Matthew, and Krishnamurthi, Shriram (2001).  How to Design Programs. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Another excellent textbook. Available online at

Optional: Weinman, Jerod. CSC-151-01: Functional Problem Solving with Scheme. The course web for the other section of this class.

Janet Davis (

Created January 19, 2007
Last revised April 20, 2009
With thanks to previous instructors for this course