Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to attend Apple Education’s “Everyone Can Code” event, highlighting Apple’s Swift Playgrounds. Swift is the coding language used to create iOS apps for iPhones and iPads. What was most surprising, given Apple’s history of closed/proprietary systems, is that Swift now plays well with Microsoft, Android, Raspberry Pi, and other platforms, greatly expanding the possibilities for our students who learn Swift.
Swift Playgrounds for the iPad allows users to learn to code through lessons that progress from beginner through complex, including the ability for the learner to create their own playgrounds. Designed for students beginning in sixth grade, I can see the app being used by students as early as fourth grade who are strong readers and/or who have adult assistance. Through the use of the shortcut bar which provides tap-and-add commands, the app bridges the gap between block coding (where the user selects symbols but may have no understanding of the underlying commands and syntax) and free-typing which often results in typos and syntax errors. This is especially helpful in the early stages of learning to code. There’s no need to compile Swift code so once you type a line of code, you can see the results immediately. Playgrounds also identifies errors as you type, simplifying the debugging process.
Swift Playgrounds includes curriculum materials designed to be accessible to teachers who have never coded before, providing educational materials so that the teacher can learn along with their students. Lessons include activities, reflection questions, and journal prompts. You can check out the free course in iTunesU and guides in iBooks.