Colorado State University, Pueblo
Math 242 — MATLAB Computation — Spring 2014

Here is a shortcut to the course schedule/homework page.

Lectures: M-F 3-3:50pm in PM 116 (scheduled)     Office Hours: T$\Theta$10am-1pm and W12-1pm, or by appointment

Instructor: Jonathan Poritz     Office: PM 248     E-mail:
Phone: 549-2044 (office — any time); 357-MATH (personal;please use sparingly)

Prerequisites: A satisfactory grade (C or higher) in Math 126 (Calculus I) and Math 207 (Matrix and Vector Algebra). The point of these prerequisites is to ensure that you are comfortable with a range of basic mathematical manipulations and techniques, including operations with vectors and matrices.

Postrequisites: This course is required for the computation mathematics, physics, biophysics, and chemical physics minors.

Course Content/Objective: The Catalog describes this course as follows:

Introduction to mathematical computation using MATLAB. Includes projects in numerical, graphical and symbolic computation. Loops, conditionals, functions, scripts, recursion, errors, program testing and documentation.
The Mathematics and Physics Department is filing the paperwork this year to change the title of this course to Mathematical Computation and its catalog description to
Introduction to mathematical and scientific computation. Includes projects in numerical, graphical and symbolic computation. Loops, conditionals, functions, scripts, recursion, errors, program testing and documentation.
Note that the only difference it the removal of the word MATLAB.

Consonant with this proposed change is the approach we will take this semester: we will use MATLAB itself very little, if at all, and instead use a variety of other tools. Most of these tools will be FLOSS (="Free/Libre Open-Source software", see Wikipedia on Free and open-source software), such as GNU Octave, our primary replacement for MATLAB (although we will use a number of other FLOSS tools as well).

The primary learning outcome for this course is very simple: to initiate students into computer programming, which is one of the great achievements of the human intellect on par with the use of tools (which, in fact, our species shares with at least ten others on our planet), the invention of writing, the scientific method, and other such epoch-defining innovations. This new step of inventing computers and programming has been around for only about fifty years and yet it has already changed nearly every aspect of the human experience. You have an opportunity in this course (and elsewhere, to be fair) to get in at the beginning of this revolution and become one of the new type of humans fluent in the new language(s) and way(s) of thinking: you can Program or be Programmed, as a recent book pithily put it.

The specific goal of the course, to realize this learning outcome, is to give students a basic understanding of how to design, write, debug, and use computer programs, and to expose them to a number of software tools and environments which aid in this process. The particular tools do not matter in the end, it is the approach and way of thinking which we will emphasize.

Class [dis]organization: One unusual feature of this class is that we will not be using a physical textbook. Instead, reference and reading materials will be posted on, or linked to from, the course web site. Please do read and use these

Here's how it will all play out in detail:

  1. Keep an eye on the course schedule page, at least as frequently as we have class.
  2. Read the assigned material we will be discussing before the class in which we will discuss it (and probably again after the first class discussion of that material).
  3. There will be regular homework assignments, roughly once a week, which will consist each of only a few problems — but they will be fairly challenging!
  4. Some specifics about the homework:
  5. Regular attendance in class is a key to success. But if you absolutely have to miss a class, please inform me in advance (as late as a few minutes before class by phone or e-mail would be fine) and I will video the class and post the video on the 'net. You can then watch the class you missed in the comfort of you home and (hopefully) not fall behind. Classes I have videoed will have the icon Black and white camera icon next to that day's entry on the schedule/homework page to remind you of the available video. (But you must e-mail me for a link to the video, you will not be able to search for it.)

Revision of work on homeworks and tests: A great learning opportunity is often missed by students who get back a piece of work graded by their instructor and simply shrug their shoulders and move on. In fact, painful though it may be, looking over the mistakes on those returned papers is often the best way to figure out exactly where you tend to make mistakes. If you correct that work, taking the time to make sure you really understand completely what was missing or incorrect, you will often truly master the technique in question, and never again make any similar mistake.

In order to encourage students to go through this learning experience, I will allow students to hand in revised solutions to all homeworks and midterms. You will be able to earn a percentage of the points you originally lost, so long as you hand in the revised work at the very next class meeting. The percentage you can earn back is given in the "revision %" column of the table in the Grades section, below.

Final Projects: Instead of a final exam, each student will choose a topic for a careful, detailed, extensive final project. This may require research, and will definitely include programming, a write-up, and a public presentation of results.

Exams: We will have two midterm exams on dates to be determined (and announced at least a week in advance). These may have a take-home portion in addition to the in-class part. Our final exam is scheduled for Monday, April 28th from 1-3:20pm and Tuesday, April 29th from 3:30-5:50pm, both in our usual classroom — but we will use those slots for final project presentations, not an exam.

Grades: In each grading category, the lowest n scores of that type will be dropped, where n is the value in the "# dropped" column. The total remaining points will be multiplied by a normalizing factor so as to make the maximum possible be 100. Then the different categories will be combined, each weighted by the "course %" from the following table, to compute your total course points out of 100. Your letter grade will then be computed in a manner not more strict than the traditional "90-100% is an A, 80-90% a B, etc." method. [Note that the math department does not give "+"s or "-"s.]

  pts each # of such # dropped revision % course %
Homework: 5/prob ≈75 probs 7 probs 75% 40%
Midterms: >100 2 0 50% 20%
Final Project: 100 1 0 0% 40%

Nota bene: Most rules on due dates, admissibility of make-up work, etc., will be interpreted with great flexibility for students who are otherwise in good standing (i.e., regular classroom attendance, homework (nearly) all turned in on time, no missing work, etc.) when they experience temporary emergency situations. Please speak to me — the earlier the better — in person should this be necessary for you.

Contact outside class: Over the years I have been teaching, I have noticed that the students who come to see me outside class are very often the ones who do well in my classes. Now correlation is not causation, but why not put yourself in the right statistical group and drop in sometime? I am always in my office, PM 248, during official office hours. If you want to talk to me privately and/or cannot make those times, please mention it to me in class or by e-mail, and we can find another time. Please feel free to contact me for help also by e-mail at, to which I will try to respond quite quickly (usually within the day, often much more quickly); be aware, however, that it is hard to do complex mathematics by e-mail, so if the issue you raise in an e-mail is too hard for me to answer in that form, it may well be better if we meet before the next class, or even talk on the telephone (in which case, include in your e-mail a number where I can reach you).

A request about e-mail: E-mail is a great way to keep in touch with me, but since I tell all my students that, I get a lot of e-mail. So to help me stay organized, please put your full name and the course name or number in the subject line of all messages to me.

Academic integrity: Mathematics is more effectively and easily learned — and more fun — when you work in groups. However, all work you turn in must be your own, and any form of cheating is grounds for an immediate F in the course for all involved parties. In particular, some assignments, such as take-home portions of tests, will have very specific instructions about the kinds of help you may seek or resources you may use, and violations of of these instructions will not be tolerated.

Students with disabilities: The University abides by the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which stipulate that no student shall be denied the benefits of education "solely by reason of a handicap." If you have a documented disability that may impact your work in this class for which you may require accommodations, please see the Disability Resource Coordinator as soon as possible to arrange accommodations. In order to receive accomodations, you must be registered with and provide documentation of your disability to: the Disability Resource Office, which is located in the Library and Academic Resources Center, Suite 169.