Notes for scientific computing seminar course

I’ve been playing with the idea of teaching a 1-2 credit seminar course about scientific computing. The idea would be to give students an introduction to the basics of several important computing tools.

This post is a collection some preliminary topics/thoughts.

What computing resources to teach?
The following are obvious candidates for inclusion.

  1. LaTeX
    • Basic document writing
    • Inclusion of graphics and data from other software packages
    • Presentations (Beamer)
  2. Mathematica
    • Plotting and other visualizations
    • Calculus computations: integration, differentiation, plotting of slope/gradient/curl fields
    • Solving and analyzing differential equations (could be easily done with only a Calc 1 pre-req)
  3. R
    • Basically follow Sam’s excellent notes
  4. Python
    • Potential to do similar operations as Mathematica; can include/supplement R
    • Basic coding, with plots of results
    • Simple script operations?

How to structure the course?
My current idea is to structure the course around a series of short projects which require the various tools listed above. The key would be for the projects to be interesting (and open-ended?) enough for students to be engaged, but not so complicated that the difficulty of the project topic itself distracts from learning the computing skills.

What else?
There are a number of interesting ways the seminar could go…

  • …become a “Sophomore Seminar” which also includes other department-specific activities (Putnam and/or modeling, reading a journal article, civic activity, etc.)
  • …become part of a modeling course, aimed at attracting students from social sciences as well.
  • …become a collaboration with physics, incorporating more of their tools & protocols, etc.
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