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CS 170 Syllabus

Discrete Structures I

Fall 2017

CIS Department

Saint Vincent College

General Information

  • 3 credits
  • Prerequisite:
    • CS 109, CS 110, MA 109, or MA 111 (any one of these four)
    • The student should have a solid background in high school algebra and precalculus.
  • Instructor: Brother David Carlson
  • Office: Dupre Science Pavilion, Tenley Hall W217
  • Office hours:
    • Mon, Wed, Fri 9:30 am - 10:20 am
    • Mon, Fri 12:30 pm - 1:45 pm
    • Tue 8:30 am - 11:15 am
    • Tue, Thurs 12:30 pm - 1:30 pm
    • and by appointment
  • Phone: 724-805-2416
  • Email:
  • Text: Discrete Mathematics and Its Applications, 7th ed., Rosen, K., McGraw-Hill (2012), ISBN 978-0-07-338309-5. Do not get a different edition or an international edition as there are typically considerable differences in the exercises and sometimes in the chapter material as well. One international edition left out an entire chapter.
  • The CIS lab in W214 of the Dupre science complex will be available according to this schedule that will also be posted on the bulletin board outside our lab.


This course is an introduction to the topics in discrete mathematics that are of particular use in computing. Discrete mathematics is especially concerned with counting techniques and finite or infinite sets of integers (discrete numbers), instead of a continuous range of numbers (such as the real numbers used in calculus). Topics to be covered include logic, sets, functions, simple proof techniques, algorithms, counting techniques, basics of graphs and trees, finite state machines, parsing, and grammars.

Why Take This Course?

The major purpose is to help the student to obtain some fluency in specific areas of discrete mathematics and to encourage the use of the associated techniques in other computing courses (such as CS 310). This course is also a prerequisite for CS 171, Discrete Structures II.

The Prerequisite

The prerequisite gives various possible routes into this course. Any one of those should give reasonable assurance that the student has the background and ability to handle CS 170. Although it helps to have some background in computer programming, it is not strictly necessary for this course.

The Text

This course will cover the essentials of the topics listed above and will usually follow the text fairly closely. The text assumes good abilities in high school algebra and many precalculus topics. Knowledge of calculus is not needed for this course, though the "mathematical maturity" obtained by completing calculus would help one to do better in this course. Thus it is usually best to take introductory calculus before taking this course.

Core Goals

This course contributes especially toward the following core curriculum goals, listed in order of emphasis.

  1. To form habits of ordered inquiry, logical thinking, and critical analysis
  2. To develop mathematical skills and quantitative literacy
  3. To develop effective communication skills (especially in the writing of good mathematics in the solution of problems)
  4. To foster historical awareness (of the field of discrete mathematics)

CIS Department Student Outcomes

This course contributes mainly to the following desired departmental student outcomes in order of emphasis.

  1. An ability to apply knowledge of computing and mathematics appropriate to the discipline
  2. An ability to analyze a problem, and identify and define the computing requirements appropriate to its solution (since some of this analysis can be mathematical in nature)
  3. An ability to design, implement, and evaluate a computer-based system, process, component, or program to meet desired needs (only the evaluate part of this is carried out in this course)
  4. An ability to communicate effectively with a range of audiences
  5. An ability to use current techniques, skills, and tools necessary for computing practice

Course Goals

Specific course goals include the following. These goals will be assessed by means of assignments, class participation, and tests. Goal 3 can also be assessed by examining the success of CS 171 students in applying the techniques learned in CS 170 to the applications found in CS 171. Informal student comments also provide helpful feedback.

  1. By the end of the course, the student should be able to prove theorems (of the type covered in the text) using direct proof, indirect proof, and proof by induction.
  2. By the end of the course, the student should be able to solve discrete mathematics problems of average difficulty of the type covered in the text. (For example, counting and combinatorial analysis problems.)
  3. By the end of the course, the student should be able to parse a short segment of computer code according to given grammar rules and to add grammar rules to handle a new feature in the language.
  4. By the end of the course, the student should be able to apply the mathematical techniques learned to computing applications covered in either this course or in CS 171.

Methods Used to Reach These Goals

Lecture, class activities, and class discussion are used to assist students in mastering the course material. Homework and WeBWorK assignments (largely mathematical problem solving) and various hands-on activities are designed to allow students to grow in their understanding of the topic. Quizzes and exams provide an opportunity for students to demonstrate what they have learned.

Grading and Course Policies

  • 25% First Exam
  • 25% Second Exam
  • 25% Final Exam: Wed, Dec 14, 8:30 am - 10:30 am
  • 25% Homework (including WeBWorK) and Class Participation

We will be using the WeBWorK online homework system for some of the homework this semester. This will provide you with more feedback and assistance in doing homework than what is typically available with written homework. The system will usually allow you more than one attempt at a problem, and may even give a hint. It will also show you the answers after the due date, which is useful in learning how to solve problems that you did not get and in studying for exams. However, there will be written homework for some of the topics in the course. On occasion a written homework assignment might be collected and graded. Homework and test answers are expected to be written using good English and good mathematics. These items will be graded primarily on the correctness of their answers, but also on the clarity of their presentation. This is intended to help the student to develop good written communications skills. If time allows, students may sometimes be asked to present at the board solutions to homework problems and be graded on these presentations. The purpose is both to help others with the problems and to assist the students doing the presentations in developing good communications skills.

Letter grades will be assigned according to the scheme found in the current College Bulletin. Exams will be announced in advance. Due to the technical nature of the course, exams will be of the open-book, open-notes variety. Calculators may be used (and are expected to be used) on exams. Cell phones and pagers should be turned off and put away during exams. On a test, students may only use the test itself, books, notes, handouts, calculators, pens, pencils, and erasers. Calculators may not be passed between students. No laptops or other computers may be used on an exam. Calculators and Mathematica are of use in the graphing of functions and in certain other parts of this course. These can also be used to aid in doing homework.

Both the instructor and students are expected to do their best to produce a good class and to treat each other with respect. This includes many factors, such as listening when someone else is speaking, trying to understand what others are saying, being of assistance to others, etc. It definitely does NOT include making fun of others. On a practical level, do your best to improve your grade: read the text, attend class, do the work, ask questions, and try to answer questions in class! Mathematics and computer science are not spectator sports! They requires active participation and repeated practice. If you begin to feel lost, consult one of the tutors, see the instructor, or work through the difficulties with the help of another student in the course. Do not let yourself get behind. In fact, one key to academic success is to start early on homework and other tasks. Last-minute miracles seldom work! Note in particular that attendance is expected. Student performance is bound to deteriorate when classes are missed. In order to emphasize the importance of attendance, the policies outlined after this paragraph will be used.

  • If the student does not attain a passing average in the test category, a failing grade will be received for the course.
  • Each unexcused absence after the first 4 results in 1 percentage point being deducted from the final course grade.
  • Arriving late for class or leaving early (without a proper excuse) is counted as 1/2 of an absence.
  • An unexcused absence from an exam results in the failure of the course.
  • Unexcused absence from more than one-third of the semester's classes results in the failure of the course.
  • Attendance is used to decide borderline grades at the end of the semester.
  • Unexcused absence from class also means a grade of zero on any homework collected in that class.
  • Late work is not accepted unless resulting from an excused absence, but partial credit is given for incomplete homework that is submitted on time.
  • Written documentation (such as a note from a doctor's office or coach of one's sports team) is normally required for an absence to be excused. Always bring a copy of such a note to give to your instructor when class must be missed. In special circumstances, check with your instructor, as it is not always possible to get documentation.
  • The lowest homework grade will be dropped at the end of the semester. This is intended to cover an absence due to minor illness, sports, and the like.

Make-up exams are strongly discouraged. If possible, take the regularly scheduled exam. For an excused absence for a significant reason, the instructor may agree to give a make-up exam. Whenever possible, see your instructor ahead of time if you know you must miss an exam (e.g. due to sports). Normally some type of written documentation is required (such as a note from the coach, doctor, etc.). If the documentation or reason for missing an exam is poor, the student can count on receiving a significantly more difficult exam, if one is given at all! Do ask about a makeup exam if you have a good reason to miss an exam, even if documentation is not readily available, as it is understood that illnesses and other complications do happen. Students participating in sports teams are required to notify the instructor in advance of games that might conflict with class.

Homework (including WeBWorK) and exams will ask critical thinking questions that require careful analysis, mathematical explanation and/or proof, and meaningful conclusions. For example, given some algorithm, you might be asked to estimate its running time by determining the most important instructions that get repeated, counting them, and then generalizing from this to a formula for the number of these instructions done in the general case. You might also be asked to summarize the running time with a tight big-O estimate and to compare this running time to that of other algorithms for the same problem in order to conclude which is best in various situations. The details should be written in good mathematical notation, with good English descriptions where needed, especially in the introduction and conclusion. In some cases the solution to a question requires some interpretation, some explanation of the meaning and/or correctness of the solution. Other problems might ask for mathematical proof of some proposition.

Intellectual honesty is important at Saint Vincent College. Attempts to pass off the work of another as one's own, or group work as one's individual work, will result in action appropriate to the seriousness of the situation. All cases of apparent intellectual dishonesty will be referred to the college administration If the administration does not say what to do about the grades in a case where plagiarism occurred, the first offense will involve a significant grade penalty (such as a grade of zero on the exam), while a second offense may result in failure of the course. In this course, students are expected to do entirely their own work on the exams and WeBWorK problems. Written homework can be done together unless explicitly stated otherwise. Some students learn better when working mostly alone. Others do better when working together. However, never simply copy someone else's work as that does little to help you to learn the material. Remember that you are responsible for knowing how to solve the homework problems and that you will have to face the exam questions on your own.

Be sure to read and follow the CIS Department Policies, available under the CIS Department web site. (This statement covers especially the proper use of departmental computing facilities, policies concerning your web pages, etc.) Be sure to read the Regulations section of the College Bulletin (which covers such things as grading, academic honesty, etc.) and the Student Handbook (which covers academic honesty, classroom etiquette, etc.).

Students with disabilities who may be eligible for academic accommodations and support services should contact Ms. Marisa Carlson, Director of Academic Accommodations and Academic Advisor, by phone (724-805-2828), email ( or by appointment (Academic Affairs-Headmasters Hall). Reasonable accommodations do not alter the essential elements of any course, program or activity. The Notification of Approved Academic Accommodations form indicates the effective date of all approved academic accommodations and is not retroactive.

If the instructor needs to cancel class, every effort will be made to send an email message to students' Saint Vincent email accounts.

Maintained by: Br. David Carlson
Last updated: August 28, 2017