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Simple Computer Assignments

Nifty Assignments

The Nifty Assignments session at the annual SIGCSE meeting is all about gathering and distributing great assignment ideas and their materials. For each assignment, the web pages linked below describe the assignment and provides materials -- handouts, starter code, and so on.

Applying for Nifty is now done as its own track with a similar deadline to special sessions. The format and content of the .zip you submit is unchanged. See the info page for ideas about what makes a nifty assignment and how to apply for the Nifty session.

Please email any suggestions or comments to Nick Parlante @ cs.stanford.edu with "nifty" in the subject. Nick's Home

Nifty Assignments 2017
Falling Sand - Dave Feinberg CS1 Very engaging falling simulation
2048 in Python - Kunal Mishra CS1 The fantastic 2048 game works great as a CS assignment
Fractal Sound - Josh Hug CS1 Amazing sound generation and visualization
SAT Synonyms - Michael Guerzhoy CS1-CS2 Fun big data application to the familiar SAT word problems
NBody Simulation - Kevin Wayne CS2 Captivating gravity simulation. Gravity .. it's everywhere!
Nifty Assignments 2016
Mountain Paths -- Baker Franke CS1 Neat simple algorithm in 2D arrays
Restaurant Recommendations Yelp Maps -- Brian Hou, Marvin Zhang, and John DeNero CS1 Nifty data visualization of restaurant data
Rack-O Game -- Arvind Bhusnurmath, Kristen Gee, and Karen Her CS1 Play and AI code for an easy game
Movie Review Sentiment -- Eric Manley and Timothy Urness CS1/CS2 Neat word analysis from a surprisingly simple algorithm
HugLife -- Josh Hug CS1/CS2 Grid simulation game that shows off testing
Autocomplete-me -- Kevin Wayne CS2 Neat applied use of word storage and binary search
Nifty Assignments 2015
Counting Squares -- Mark Sherriff, Luther Tychonievich, and Ryan Layer CS0/CS1 Neat and easy squares activity
Speed Reader -- Peter-Michael Osera CS1 Nifty Animation
GeoLocator -- Stuart Reges CS1 Fun Geo Data
Packet Sniffing -- Suzanne Matthews and David Raymond CS1 Eye Opening Networking
Melody Maker -- Allison Obourn and Marty Stepp CS1 Fun with Sound
Seam Carving -- Josh Hug CS1/CS2 Amazing Image Resize Trick
Nifty Assignments 2013
Twitter Trends -- John DeNero and Aditi MuralidharanCS0-CS1 Neat output with a hip big-data source
Collage -- Mark GuzdialCS0 Novel media output by combining images
Authorship Detection -- Michelle CraigCS1 Surprisingly effective data driven categorization with basic coding
Recursive TurtleGraphics -- Eric RobertsCS1 Get at the essential recursive idea very easily
Campus Shuttle -- David MalanCS1 Stunning graphical tour
Estimating Avogadro's Number -- Kevin WayneCS1/CS2 Surprisingly easy image processing of lab data to get a real-world result
Nifty Assignments 2012
Stereo Sound Processing -- Daniel ZingaroCS1 (early) - Fun and impressive early in the quarter - remove vocals from sound
Guitar Heroine -- Kevin WayneCS1/CS2, Extremely neat -- math model creates realistic guitar sound
Uno -- Stephen DaviesCS1, Strategy AI to play Uno.
Image Editor -- Joshua T. Guerin and Debby KeenCS1/CS2 Code to experiment with images, but requiring only the ability to change text files.
Igel Ärgern -- Zachary KurmasCS2 Hedgehogs in a Hurry game
Binary Bomb -- David O'HallaronPost CS2 -- neat assignment puzzle to play with understanding of compiled code and memory as they truly are. On the linked page, see the README, Writeup, Release Notes, Self-Study Handout which all work without a password. To play with the code, email Dave and he'll send you what you need to get the binaries.
Nifty Assignments 2011
Image Puzzles -- Nick ParlanteCS0 or later, great puzzles using images, tiny code required
BMP Puzzles -- David MalanCS1, More and better image puzzles, looking at bytes of BMP file representation
Book Recommendations -- Michelle CraigCS1, Like the Netflix movie-recommendation system, generate book recommendations. Surprisingly simple algorithms give a neat results.
Generic Scrolling Game -- Dave FeinbergCS1, Project pattern which supports a variety of games. Easily allows students to customize rules, graphics etc. of simple game.
Wator World -- Mike ScottCS1-CS2, Shark/fish simulation using GridWorld type abstraction. Neat simulation/modeling example working from simple rules.
Hamming Codes -- Stuart HansenCS2, Neat exercise with a real algorithm. Push the students to understand that it's really all bytes.
Evil Hangman -- Keith SchwarzCS2 or late CS1 - Awesome variant of Hangman, where the computer cheats by dodging all the user's guesses
Nifty Assignments 2010
Picobot -- Zachary DoddsCS0-CS1, day-1 assignment -- neat environment to get students started, works in the browser
Pig -- Todd NellerCS1, intermediate difficulty game to implement, but students love it and lots of variations
Song Generator -- Daniel ZingaroCS1, implement filters with short bits of code, but it all works in the domain of sound, making in a novel and engaging domain for the students
CSI: Computer Science Investigation -- David MalanThe instructor accidentally erases the compact flash card containing their images. Students write code to recover the images, solve the treasure hunt using the images
Encryption Chase -- Mark SherriffCS2, encryption coding, embedded in a team active-learning campus treasure hunt
Chatting Aimlessly (IM) -- Thomas MurtaghCS1, implement simple instant messaging client in CS1 -- talk about a technology near to the student heart!
Nifty Assignments 2009
Star Map -- Karen ReidCS1, neat drawing of the night sky and constellations -- simple file reading and drawing
Face Pamphlet -- Mehran SahamiCS1, simple Facebook application built with just CS1 technology, students love it
Secrets In Images -- Brent Heeringa, Thomas MurtaghCS1, hide secret messages inside images -- neat image manipulation with data as simple arrays
Random Art -- Christopher A StoneCS1, build nifty images with recursive nested random symbolic math expressions (python)
Enigma Encryption -- Dave ReedCS1-CS21, range of easy to complex cryptography projects, using paper/manipulation model to get started
DNA Splicing -- Owen AstrachanCS2, surprisingly easy DNA manipulation, set up for the students to measure/experiment with their code
Nifty Assignments 2008
Catch Plagiarists -- Baker FrankeCS1-CS2, typical CS2 data structures, difficulty can be adjusted. Search within a set of documents to find pairs with copied content
Genetic Algorithm TSP -- Raja SooriamurthiCS1-CS2, basic genetic algorithms. Use genetic algorithms to solve the traveling salesman problem
Asteroids -- Dan Leyzberg, Art SimonCS1-CS2, objects, inheritance, abstract classes. An impressive implementation of Asteroids with OOP design and inheritance
Huffman Images -- Morgan McGuire, Tom MurtaghCS1(late) or CS2(early). Labs to explore huffman compression in the context of image bitmap manipulation
Maze Solver -- Don BlahetaCS2, stacks, queues, 2d arrays. Play around with algorithms to solve a maze. Works with gridworld
Dice Flip -- Cay HorstmannCS1-CS2, prolog for advanced CS2, java for late CS1 variant. Explore simple but subtle dice game
Nifty Assignments 2007
Media Manipulation -- John CigasCS0-CS1, spreadsheet use or basic code. Transfer media data to spreadsheet form to make manipulation easy
ASCIImations -- Dave ReedCS0-CS2. ASCII animations make fun, creative output with surprisingly simple code (Javascript, Java, ...)
Mindreader -- Raja SooriamurthiCS1, CS2. basic logic, map interface (arrays or Hashmaps). Build a surprisingly good computer opponent for a guessing game
Solitaire OOP -- Robert NoonanCS2, OOP and patterns to explore family of solitaire games
Sliding Blocks Puzzle -- Mike ClancyCS2, significant recursion and data structures. Recursive and heuristic work to solve the sliding blocks puzzle.
Fire -- Angela ShifletCS2, 2-d arrays, simulation. Neat, real-world example simulating spread of fire across a terrain, depending on humidity etc.
Nifty Assignments 2006
Book Code (ISBN) -- John MotilCS1, basic logic to play with ISBN numbers. Fun because we are surrounded by these numbers .. use them for basic examples
Natural Prestidigitation -- Steve WolfmanCS1, basic logic, loops, arrays. Appears dull, but has a neat surprise ending.
Breakout -- Eric RobertsCS1, basic logic, loops using ACM graphics early in the term
Dancing Turtles -- Chris NevisonCS1, inheritance with dancing turtles and ACM graphics
Solitaire Encryption -- Lester I. McCannCS2, list manipulations, algorithmic code, file reading. Implements a very novel type of encryption.
Anagram Solver -- Stuart RegesCS2, recursive backtracking ... a very fun application of recursive search
RSS Reader -- Jerry CainCS2, data structures, networking ... neat to implement a client for a real protocol
Nifty Assignments 2005
Test Me -- David LevineCS0-CS1, students write tests to examine black box code -- nifty and no code writing
Grid Plotter -- Alyce Brady and Pam CutterCS1, neat way to learn and practice loop code
Complementary Currency -- Paul KubeCS1, OOP by creating a currency ... has a community/social aspect among the students
Name Surfer -- Nick ParlanteCS1, loops, arrays, files. Graph baby name data for the last 100 years. Nifty because the data is nifty.
Photomosaics PPT (PDF version) -- Rich PattisCS2, create image made of many little images .. but there is a patent on it
Image Lab -- Aaron GordonCS2, framework to allow students to write filters on 2-d data and see them applied to images
  • Nifty Assignments 2004

  • Nifty Assignments 2003
    • Virtual Pests -- Jeffrey L. Popyack -- a fun CS1 assignment using JavaScript
    • Pong -- Grant Braught -- a neat "objects first" assignment
    • Lunar Lander -- Stuart Reges -- another fun "objects first" assignment
    • HTML Browser -- Scott Dexter and Chaya Gurwitz -- CS2 assignment to render HTML
    • Backtracking -- Stephen Weiss -- CS2 all about backtracking
    • Random Writer -- Joe Zachary -- a neat CS2 data structure problem

  • Nifty Assignments 2002
    • Blurbs from the proceedings
    • Shall We Play A Game? -- Dan Garcia -- A system where students can play around with game playing AI (CS0)
    • Neat Javascript projects -- Dave Reed -- Using Javascript as a simple introduction to programming (CS0)
    • Adventure -- John Estell -- Using the classic adventure game as a largish project (CS2)
    • Sorting Detective -- David Levine -- A fun variation on the old "sorting algorithms" homework  (CS2)
    • Boggle -- Julie Zelenski (in cahoots with Owen Astrachan) -- Using the Boggle game to explore recursive algorithms and data structure tradeoffs (CS2)
  • Nifty Assignments 2001
    • Blurbs from the proceedings
    • Windows and Regions -- Mike Clancy -- an algorithmic problem using 2-d regions. An excuse to do some linked-list (or ArrayList) type manipulation. Give the students a feel for "window" manager region operations.
    • Personality Test -- Stuart Reges -- sort and match the personality data of the class (more fun than it sounds!)
    • Quilt -- Julie Zelenski -- a fun, drawing-intensive CS1 project that emphasizes decomp
    • Word Ladder -- Owen Astrachan -- a string manipulation puzzle
    • Tetris -- Nick Parlante -- a large OOP project, with a tetris board, tetris piece, tetris game, and a pluggable tetris brain . Can be used as a small project where students just write a Tetris brain and plug it in, or can be used as a large CS2 OOP project. The nifty materials include a runnable JTetris.jar sample, and an Instructor's Guide
  • Nifty Assignments 1999
    • Blurbs from the proceedings
    • Cat And Mouse -- Mike Clancy -- (CS1) a cute problem which requires non-trivial geometry and algorithms, but can be solved in 100 lines.
    • Bagels -- Stuart Reges -- (CS1) a fun game with some algorithmic complexity.
    • DNA -- Richard E. Pattis -- (CS1) great first data structures and performance tuning problem.
    • Huffman Coding -- Owen Astrachan -- (CS2) decomposition and data structures.
    • The Random Sentence Generator -- Julie Zelenski -- (CS2) a fun use of grammars, recursion, and ADTs.
    • Darwin's World -- Nick Parlante -- (CS2) a simulator featuring decomposition and a simple interpreter.
    Also of interest: The Stanford CS Education Library of free CS Education Materials, home of the Binky Pointer Video!

    On this site you will find lesson modules covering basic computer skills developed by computer teachers* from Adult Basic Education programs in the St. Paul Community Literacy Consortium.

    You will find Lessons (handouts), Teacher Guides, Vocabulary Lists and Activities.  Some computer skills may have several lessons associated with them and some lessons may cover several computer skills. 

    The lessons are grouped by computer task and skill.  Rather than rigidly defining a day-by-day curriculum, teachers can pick and choose lessons and activities that suit their classroom needs and student’s pace.

    The teachers on this project highly recommend incorporating keyboarding practice into your curriculum. Using a keyboarding program such as Mavis Beacon every day will help your students feel comfortable on the keyboard. There are also some good resources Learn to Type Efficiently and at Online Keyboarding Education.

    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. These materials are free for others to use non-commerciually. Please credit the St. Paul Community Literacy Consortium when using.

    Note: All files are PDF format unless noted.

    New MSWord Additions

    Updated exercises, project ideas, and course outlines in Microsoft Word are now available in a single (27 Megabyte) download. Simply right-click the "Computer_training.zip" zip file and choose "Save Target As" to download to your computer. Then use your favorite zip program to unzip the entire curriculum.

    Table of Contents:

    Very Basic Computer Skills

    Visuals for teaching very basic computer skills: using a mouse and turning a computer on and off. These are suited for low NRS levels or for students with little to no computer experience. Two good websites for practicing mouse skills are Mousarobics and Mouse Exercises.

    Computer Vocabulary

    Handouts and activities to teach everyday computer vocabulary (computer parts, toolbar, font, highlight, etc.). These are suited for low NRS levels or for students with little to no computer experience.

    Opening and Saving Files

    Navigating windows to open and save files. These are suited for low NRS levels or for students with little to no computer experience.

    Skills and Activities Practice

    Activities created to help students practice skills such as font attributes (bold, italics), spacing, cut-and-paste, and tables. All documents are zipped together. Each lesson includes a Teacher's Guide and several activities (MS Word Documents). These are suited for low NRS levels or for students with little to no computer experience.

    MS Word Exercises

    Step-by-step instructions with graphics designed to introduce learners to various aspects of MS Word. NRS levels range from Low Intermediate and High Intermediate Basic Education to Low Adult Secondary.

    Excel Exercises

    Step-by-step instructions with graphics designed to introduce learners to various aspects of MS Excel. These lessons are suitable for NRS level Low Adult Secondary.


    Lessons and activities on using the internet. These lessons refer to Internet Explorer as the browser. Many activities can be completed regardless of the browser.


    Step-by-step instructions with graphics designed to walk students through the creation of a PowerPoint presentation.


    * This project was funded by America Connects Consortium with the goal of creating lessons for common basic computer skills that teachers in the Adult Basic Education field could download and incorporate into their classroom at no cost. 

    Curriculum developed by:

    • Jessica Schachterle from Minnesota Literacy Council
    • Daniel Hoisington from Lao Family Community
    • Deb Woodburn, volunteer with Chicanos Latinos Unidos En Servicio working with Minnesota Literacy Council

    Thanks to the Minnesota Literacy Council and teacher, Jessica Grace Jones, for the new additions. For feedback or questions regarding the curriculum, contact Jessica at jjones@themlc.org.

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