Program Like a Martian – An Introduction to Python Programming

Back in 2016-2017, Temple’s General Education office created a new course named Demystifying Technology. The novel idea was to offer six modules taught by six different instructors in a single semester: Algorithmic and Computational Problem Solving (2 weeks); Internet, Culture and Society (2 weeks); Global Networks and Economies (2 weeks); Coding and Applied Computer Science (4 weeks); Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Design Thinking (2 weeks); and Big Data and the Information Explosion (2 weeks). Ultimately, the design was deemed unwieldy — the two week modules, in particular, were just too short — but it was an interesting experiment.

I developed and taught the four week Coding and Applied Computer Science model. Given that the audience was comprised of general education students, many of whom were freshman, most with zero prior programming experience, I wanted the nodule to be a gentle introduction to programming in python while simultaneously showcasing the power of the language. To make it fun, I built the exercises around the best-selling book movie, The Martian, which was made into a movie staring Matt Damon. The story is futuristic version of Robinson Crusoe: astronaut Mark Watney, stranded alone on Mars after an accident, struggles to survive until a rescue mission can arrive. I created a series of Jupyter notebooks where students write python programs to solve some of the challenges Watney faced.

I have successfully used this series of notebooks as a self-guided introduction to python programming for several graduate and undergraduate student researchers. While there is no shortage of python tutorials on the internet, some of you might still find this one fun and useful. I have recently revised the notebooks to be compatible with Google Colab, updated all the links, and posted the Jupyter notebooks and supporting data in a repository on GitHub. Never let old course preparation go to waste!

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