Swift Playgrounds is a great new app that bridges the gap between visual block-based coding and syntax code while maintaining interest for students, as it is fun and engaging. There has been a gap in the market between block-based code such as Scratch, Tickle and Hopscotch and the more complex syntax code, particularly with teaching students in the middle school years. It bridges the gap by introducing blocks of code, but the blocks are the actual syntax code – like choosing ingredients in a recipe while teaching the syntax language.
The game-style lessons and challenges with cute characters (tap on Byte to find two more characters to choose from), will appeal to students and is engaging, while teaching concepts and terminology such as commands, loops, conditional code and boolean. Terminology is introduced and you can tap on red text for definitions. You choose your character and guide the character through the goals and challenges with Swift, collecting gems, toggling switches and navigating portals. You can zoom in and spin the 3D world around when the path becomes more complex. You can also record a video of your solution to hand in or add to a digital learning journal.
The playground is just one way to use Swift Playgrounds, and encourages computational thinking with problem-solving by breaking down the problem into manageable parts, recognising and identifying patterns and looking for loops for more efficient code. The keyboard is also clever – coders have found typing code on an iPad can be difficult with the iPad keyboard, but the keyboard in Swift Playgrounds allows you to easily access numbers and symbols by dragging the keys down or across to select other options.
Swift is a coding language that is said to be easier to learn, as common English language words are used in the syntax, it is a little less reliant on complex punctuation and the power of the language requires less lines of codes than some languages. While it is mostly used to create Apple apps, it can be now used for cloud-based web projects and Android apps.
There are excellent teacher resources with the Teacher Guide which help guide teachers through the process of teaching with Swift Playgrounds and encourage student reflection. There is also an excellent Learn to Code iTunes U course, that is also FREE. Swift Playgrounds is FREE and only available with iOS10, which means it does not work on iPad 2s and earlier. While it is suggested to start Swift Playgrounds with Grade 6, I would certainly think Grade 4 students would cope with at least the first few modules. Learn to Code 1 teaches the fundamentals and will keep students going beyond Primary School age, and Learn to Code 2 goes beyond the basics into building your own worlds.