Joachim Breitner

The new CIS-194

Published 2016-09-05 in sections English, Haskell.

The Haskell minicourse at the University of Pennsylvania, also known as CIS-194, has always had a reach beyond the students of Penn. At least since Brent Yorgey gave the course in 2013, who wrote extensive lecture notes and eventually put the material on Github.

This year, it is my turn to give the course. I could not resist making some changes, at least to the first few weeks: Instead of starting with a locally installed compiler, doing execises that revolve mostly around arithmetic and lists, I send my students to CodeWorld, which is a web programming environment created by Chris Smith1.

This greatly lowers the initial hurlde of having to set up the local toolchain, and is inclusive towards those who have had little expose to the command line before. Not that I do not expect my students to handle that, but it does not hurt to move that towards later in the course.

But more importantly: CodeWorld comes with a nicely designed simple API to create vector graphics, to animate these graphics and even create interactive programs. This means that instead of having to come up with yet another set of exercieses revolving around lists and numbers, I can have the students create Haskell programs that are visual. I believe that this is more motivating and stimulating, and will nudge the students to spend more time programming and thus practicing.

In fact, the goal is that in their third homework assignemnt, the students will implement a fully functional, interactive Sokoban game. And all that before talking about the built-in lists or tuples, just with higher order functions and custom datatypes. (Click on the picture above, which is part of the second weeks’s homework. You can use the arrow keys to move the figure around and press the escape key to reset the game. Boxes cannot be moved yet -- that will be part of homework 3.)

If this sounds interesting to you, and you always wanted to learn Haskell from scratch, feel free to tag along. The lecture notes should be elaborate enough to learn from that, and with the homework problems, you should be able to tell whether you have solved it yourself. Just do not publish your solutions before the due date. Let me know if you have any comments about the course so far.

Eventually, I will move to local compilation, use of the interpreter and text-based IO and then start using more of the material of previous iterations of the course, which were held by Richard Eisenberg in 2014 and by Noam Zilberstein in 2015.


  1. Chris has been very helpful in making sure CodeWorld works in a way that suits my course, thanks for that!

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