CMU 15-112: Fundamentals of Programming and Computer Science
Class Notes: Term Project Assignment
Due: Thu 6-Dec at 4:30pm (no late submissions accepted)

See the Term Project Gallery for examples!

Note: this is a long document. But: you really need to read all of it, very carefully, before starting any of it. You are about to invest serious effort creating the capstone project for this course. You need to take the time to carefully read and understand everything in this document before you get started.

Also, this project is meant to be educational but also good fun. Enjoy, and work hard!!!

  1. Description
  2. Schedule
    1. Sunday 11-Nov: TP0
    2. Saturday 17-Nov: Tech Demo
    3. Tuesday 20-Nov: TP1
    4. Wednesday 28-Nov: TP2
    5. Thursday 06-Dec: TP3
    6. Thursday 06-Dec: TP Showcase
  3. Policies and Rules
  4. Deliverables
    1. TP1
    2. TP2
    3. TP3

  1. Term Project Description

    Your task is to design and implement a program of your choosing. Your project may be graphical, text-based, or even file-based. It may be a game, or a math or science application, or a baseball statistics package, or a productivity application (think Word or Excel, only very "lite" versions), or a shell script, or anything else you choose. This is a wide open assignment, and you are expected to be creative in your approach to it.

    Each of you will be assigned a Mentor TA for your term project. While every staff member is happy to help you at any time, it is expected that your Mentor TA will provide most of your support and guidance during the course of your term project. Also, your Mentor TA will be grading your term project. You are encouraged to discuss your project with your Mentor TA during the last weeks of the semester, so you know where you stand and what additional work may be required to improve your grade.

    You have an extended period to finish this assignment, with no other required assignments during the last three weeks. You are expected to invest at least 30 total hours into this project in this time, and it is further expected that your project will clearly reflect the quantity and quality of design and craftsmanship that goes along with that much time on this task. Many of you will exceed the 30-hour bar, but this is a minimum expectation for passing the term project.

    The term project is very open-ended, but there are a few restrictions:

    • You must use Python. If you want to use a different programming language for some reason, you will need to obtain special permission from the course instructors.
    • You should produce an interactive Python application. If you want to create a phone app or webapp, or if you want to create a non-interactive application, you will need to obtain permission from the course instructors.
    • If you want to use external materials (Python non-builtin libraries or hardware), you must pass a tech demo first. This tech demo is used to ensure that you know the external material well enough to avoid getting in trouble. If you fail the tech demo and insist on using the external material anyway, we will ignore any part of the project that uses the external material while grading.
      Note 1: once your project reaches MVP stage (as measured by your mentor), you may add on any external modules you want. This typically happens around TP2.
      Note 2: installing modules can be a pain. But the TAs have written a handy module manager to make it easier! Try it out with the following code:

    • import module_manager

  2. Schedule

    Many events happen during Term Project Season! This is your guide to all of them.

    Week 11

    • Sat 3-Nov to Tue 6-Nov by 6pm: Fill out the TP Mentor/Equipment Requests form. This is your chance to request specific TAs to be your mentor, and to ask if you can borrow hardware from the 112 lending library. If you do not request a specific mentor by the deadline, you will be assigned a mentor randomly.

    • Mon 5-Nov to Fri 9-Nov: Attend at least one TP mini-lecture led by a TA to learn about new algorithms or modules you can use in your project. This is worth 20 points on hw11.

    • Wed 7-Nov by 8pm: Mentor assignments will be released by the end of the day. Initial hardware assignments will also be released.

    • Thu 8-Nov to Sun 11-Nov: Meet with your mentor for TP0. In this meeting you will discuss your TP idea with your mentor, and they will either approve the idea or suggest how to change it to make it feasible. If you do not have a TP idea, your mentor will help you come up with one at this point. If necessary, they will also assign you a tech demo. This meeting is very important- do not miss it!! If you do miss your TP0 meeting, you will receive a 25 point penalty on TP1.

    Week 12

    • Thu 15-Nov: Midterm2

    • Fri 16-Nov to Sun 18-Nov: If you're doing a tech demo, meet with your mentor to check in on how things are going.

    Week 13

    • Mon 19-Nov - Tue 20-Nov by 8pm: Meet with your mentor for your TP1 checkin and submit the TP1 deliverable on Autolab. By TP1 you are expected to have finalized the design plan for your project, and you should have made a decent start on the code (200-400 lines). If you were assigned a tech demo, you must also present your tech demo at this point; if you fail the tech demo, you will need to restructure your project to work without the tech. For TP1 only, you may meet with your mentor via video chat if you or your mentor are out of town for Thanksgiving.

    Week 14

    • Tue 27-Nov - Wed 28-Nov by 8pm: Meet with your mentor for your TP2 checkin and submit the TP2 deliverable on Autolab. By TP2 you should be at a Minimal Viable Project (MVP) stage, with the majority of the project's core code implemented.

    Week 15

    • Thu 6-Dec 4:30pm: Submit the TP3 deliverable on Autolab. TP3 should be your completed final project, including a readme file, a video demo, and all design files related to the project.

    • Thu 6-Dec 5:30-7pm: Keep an eye on your email inbox; sometime in this period, we'll email a select few students and ask them to present at the Term Project Showcase. You are not required to present, but it is highly encouraged, and you might win a prize!

    • Thu 6-Dec 7:30pm: Attend the Term Project Showcase in McConomy and watch demos of amazing projects by your fellow students! This event is required; if you cannot attend due to a prior obligation, fill out this form to be excused.

    • Fri 7-Dec to Sun 9-Dec: Meet with your mentor for your TP3 live demo. You may only present work that was completed before the TP3 deliverable deadline. Note that the TP3 meeting is very important, as it is where your mentor will decided what your grade should look like. Your mentor will send an email with sign-ups for time slots. We strongly suggest that you arrive 5 minutes early to your time slot, with your computer prepared to give a demonstration, so that none of your time is wasted. Your demonstration should take no more than five minutes so that your mentor has adequate time to ask you questions.

    Week 16

    • Tue 11-Dec to Thu 13-Dec: TP3 grades are released on Autolab.

  3. Policies and Rules

    The term project is different from the other assignments and exams in 15-112. Therefore, it has its own special set of policies and rules. Note that the main course policies still apply, unless they are overruled by the policies described here.

    • Collaboration: This project is solo, in that every student must do their own independent project. However, unlike other solo assignments, you may be richly collaborative in terms of helping each other, including viewing other students' code to help them debug, openly discussing designs and algorithms, etc. Using resources wisely is an important aspect of this term project. However, you still must conceive and understand your entire design of your project, and you must personally write every line of code that you submit for credit.

    • Office Hours and Piazza: there will be a new schedule of office hours during Term Project season. TAs will still provide help, but they will not know precisely how your term project works, so you will need to be prepared to ask specific questions. During Term Project season, you may also ask public questions on Piazza and respond to other students' questions, so that students with module-specific problems can help each other out.

    • Online Resources: You may use any materials whatsoever, including source code, designs, images, text, sounds, or anything else, from any sources you may discover online. However, you must very clearly cite each such use, so it is very clear what is yours and what is not, and in the latter case where the materials came from. We will grade you only on your original contributions, and we will penalize use of external materials without citation. Note that you must also clearly cite code that comes from the course notes! Non-cited external code will receive a -15 penalty on TP1, a -25 penalty on TP2, and will be investigated as potential cheating cases in TP3.

    • Prior Work: You may use code that you've written for past assignments, or code that you've written for projects outside of this course, but you must clearly cite this code as having been written for a different purpose. We will only grade you on code developed specifically for the term project. Additionally, all term project code must be completed within the current semester.

    • Weekly Meetings: You'll have weekly meetings with your mentor to demonstrate the progress you've made and to receive advice. These meetings will be quick (often only ten minutes), but should greatly help you in making progress in the project. We expect you to treat your mentor with respect by responding promptly to scheduling emails, arriving at meetings on time, and never missing scheduled meetings. If you miss a scheduled meeting, there will be a 5% deduction on the associated deliverable; if you never meet with your mentor for a deliverable, there will be a 25% deduction on the deliverable.

    • Submission: You will submit each deliverable as a zip file on Autolab. If you don't know how to zip a file, learn how here. Please note that Autolab will not accept submissions larger than 10 MB. If your zip file is larger than this, submit the core part of your project to Autolab, and submit the rest to your mentor via some other means (Google Drive, USB drive, email, etc).

    • Extensions: We generally do not allow students to submit the deliverables late, and you may not use grace days on the term project deliverables. That having been said, if you have a medical or personal/family emergency, email the professors to see if an extension can be arranged.

  4. Deliverables

    You will have 3 weekly deliverables for this term project, each graded separately. The first two deliverables (TP1 and TP2) will be counted as quizzes on Autolab and in your final grade. The last deliverable (TP3) will determine your general Term Project grade, which counts for 20% of your final grade.

    Grading will be done in person with your mentor, though they will not assign you a number grade until after consulting with other TAs in the class after the meeting. Each of the deliverables comes with a rubric, but these rubrics are fairly general, as projects vary so widely. In general, we expect a large amount of effort to go into the design, writeup, implementation, and presentation of your project.

    1. TP1 (due Tue 20-Nov at 8pm)

      The TP1 deliverable consists of two main components: a design proposal and preliminary code. You should finish these components before meeting with your mentor, so that you can present them to your mentor in full. You can submit all the required files within a single zip file on Autolab, under the TP1 assignment. If your file is larger than 10MB, read here for info on how to submit. TP1 will be counted as a quiz in your grades.

      • Design Proposal [50 pts]

        Your Design Proposal should be submitted as a directory containing several files:

        • Project Proposal [30 pts]
          Write up a proposal file (in the file proposal.txt, or .docx, or .pdf) which should include the following components:

          • Project Description [5 pts]: The name of the term project and a short description of what it will be.

          • Competitive Analysis [5 pts]: A 1-2 paragraph analysis of similar projects you've seen online, and how your project will be similar or different to those.

          • Structural Plan [5 pts]: A structural plan for how the finalized project will be organized in different functions, files and/or objects.

          • Algorithmic Plan [5 pts]: A detailed algorithmic plan for how you will approach the trickiest part of the project.

          • Timeline Plan [5 pts]: A timeline for when you intend to complete the major features of the project.

          • Version Control Plan [3 pts]: A short description and image demonstrating how you are using version control to back up your code. You must back up your code somehow!!!

          • Module List [2 pts]: A list of all external modules/hardware/technologies you are planning to use in your project. Note that any such modules must be approved by a tech demo. If you are not planning to use any additional modules, that's okay, just say so!

        • Storyboard [20 pts]
          Generate a storyboard (as we learned in class) that demonstrates how a user would interact with your finished project. Your storyboard should have at least six panels, and at least three of those should demonstrate features within the project. You may scan or take a picture of your storyboard and include it in the directory as the file storyboard.png (other acceptable filetypes include .gif, .jpg, and .pdf).

      • Preliminary Code [50 pts]

        In addition to the design proposal, you should also submit code artifacts showing some early work on the project. This does not need to be a working demo; it should just be a real start towards solving the core problems of your project. For most students, 200-400 lines of decent code would indicate a good start.

      • TP0 Meeting [0 pts]

        You should have met with your mentor the previous week to discuss your idea. If you miss this meeting, you will be penalized 25 points.

      • TP1 Meeting [0 pts]

        You'll meet with your mentor to check in and demonstrate what you've accomplished so far. If you miss this meeting, you will be penalized 25 points.

      • Timesheet [0 pts]

        In addition to the main deliverables, you must also submit time data here. To do this, you should keep track of the time you spend on the project and enter it into the form. If you do not submit the timesheet, you will be penalized 5 points on the deliverable.

    2. TP2 (due Wed 28-Nov at 8pm)

      Your TP2 deliverable consists of two components: a working demo and updated design docs. You should submit all the files in a single zip file to Autolab, this time under TP2. If your file is larger than 10MB, read here for info on how to submit. TP2 will be counted as a quiz in your grades.

      • Working Demo [100 pts]

        At this point, you should have a working demo of your project that meets your project's version of MVP (Minimal Viable Project). This generally requires that the core features of the project should almost all be implemented such that they more or less work. The code may be missing features, it may have a less-than-polished user interface, it may have bugs, it may even crash more often than desired, but it has to basically work for some reasonable definition of "work". Once your mentor confirms that your project has reached MVP status, you are guaranteed to get a Term Project grade of at least a 75.

      • TP2 Meeting [0 pts]

        You'll meet with your mentor to check in and demonstrate what you've accomplished so far. If you miss this meeting, you will be penalized 25 points.

      • Updated Design Docs [0 pts]

        Many students update their design plans due to unforeseen problems or new ideas. You must add a new section to your design proposal, 'TP2 Update'; in this section, you should list any design changes you have made. If you made no changes, simply say so in this section. You do not need to update your storyboard, but you should keep it in your design directory. If you do not add this update section, you will be penalized 5 points.

      • Timesheet [0 pts]

        Fill out another timesheet to include the hours worked in the period between TP1 and TP2. If you do not fill this out, you will be penalized 5 points.

    3. TP3 (due Thu 6-Dec at 4:30pm)

      TP3 is your final term project deliverable, and should be your completed term project. The main deliverables are the project codebase and source files, a readme file, a demo video, and your updated design docs. Place all of your files into a single zip file and submit on Autolab, under TP3. If your file is larger than 10MB, read here for info on how to submit. TP3 will be graded as the main Term Project, and is worth 20% of your final grade.

      • Project Codebase [90 pts]

        The codebase should include all your python files and any other files (images, music files, etc.) required to help your project run. Your project should run robustly, should be algorithmically complex, and should have decent user experience. It may also have a well-designed user interface, depending on the project.

        When grading your project code, we also consider effort. The term project should take up the majority of your 15-112 time in the last three weeks of the semester. The class is 12 units, which means 12 hours a week or 36 hours in three weeks; after subtracting 4 hours (for three additional lectures), this leaves 32 hours which you should spend on the term project. This means you need to spend at least 10 hours a week. Spending this time and showing real effort and progress in mentor meetings will factor into your score.

      • Readme File [5 pts]

        You must include a new file, readme.txt, which should include the following components:

        • A short description of the project's name and what it does. This may be taken from your design docs.

        • How to run the project. For example, which file the user should run in an editor. If your project uses data/source files, also describe how the user should set those up.

        • How to install any needed libraries. If you can include the library in the submission, that is preferred.

        • A list of any shortcut commands that exist. Shortcut commands can be used to demonstrate specific features by skipping forward in a game or loading sample data. They're useful for when you're testing your code too!

        A competent programmer should be able to run your project after reading the readme file, so make sure to include all necessary files in your submission!

      • Project Demo [5 pts]

        There are two parts to the project demo: the video demo and the live demo.

        • Video Demo [2.5 pts]: This should be a 1-3 minute video that captures the main idea of the project. It should show the most important and coolest features of the project, with narration to explain how it works. This demo should not provide a full walkthrough of the whole project, and does not need to cover every single feature; think of it as more of a trailer for the project as a whole. Your video demo should be uploaded to YouTube (or some other video hosting service), and your submission on Autolab should include a file called demo-video.txt that contains a link to the uploaded video.

          The quality of the video and audio does not need to meet any particular standard (as long as it meets YOUR standards such that you'd be happy to include it in your own portfolio). Feel free to use a video camera or a screen capture program to record: Quicktime, Jing, and Screencast-o-Matic are all good and free options. Parts of some demo videos may be selected to appear in the TP Lightning Round video.

        • Live Demo [2.5 pts]: In your TP3 meeting, you will need to provide a live demo to your mentor. This demo can be up to 5 minutes long and should cover all the core components of the project, especially anything your mentor might not notice when they test the code themselves. This is your chance to convince your mentor that you deserve a great grade!

      • Design and Documentation [0 pts]

        Your submission should include the design directory from the previous deliverables. The proposal should have a new section, 'TP3 Update', which includes any design modifications made since the previous update (or says that no changes were made if no changes were made). You will not be penalized if this section is not included, but it may negatively impact your mentor's ability to grade your project, as they may not be aware of new features you've added.

      • Timesheet [0 pts]

        Fill out one final timesheet to include the hours worked between TP2 and TP3. We will not apply a deduction to your grade if you forget to fill out this timesheet, but we will withhold your TP3 grade until you do so.

      • Style [0 pts]

        Writing your term project code with good and consistent style will make your life much easier! In particular, we expect that you will organize your code in a sensible way (and certainly into more than one python file), and that you will have a short comment at the top of each file describing what the file does. We will not directly grade your code for style, but we reserve the right to deduct points for egregious style errors.