5 Reasons why Apple Swift Playgrounds is a perfect programming app
By Nick Acton
23 December, 2019 by
5 Reasons why Apple Swift Playgrounds is a perfect programming app
Nick Acton Music

There are many programming apps out there. So many in fact, that it’s sometimes hard for teachers to decide which one will work best for them. Scratch is a popular option. The little programmable Scratch cat is a familiar friend. It’s been around for a long time and therefore teachers and pupils feel at ease with it. However, is it really the best thing available? If you are starting from scratch (excuse the pun) when it comes to Programming in your class, then it’s important to look around. Don’t always go for the familiar because there may be free applications out there that are much much better. I would say that Apple Swift Playgrounds is one such app.
Here are five reasons why I’m so confident…

Odoo • Text and Image
Odoo • Image and Text

1) Variety

First and foremost, Swift Playgrounds offers much more. Think of it as a repository for all sorts of weird and wonderful programming activities. Within the app, you can download different levels that encompass a range of challenges. You can interact with simple motion-based tasks or delve into musical programming, engineering-based games, problem-solving levels, website building etc. This means two things. Firstly, it’s hard to get bored with the app as it can constantly bring more to the table.

Secondly, it enables teachers to scaffold learning in a simple step-by-step way and offers plenty of opportunities for differentiation. The youngest first-time programmers can use Swift Playground and so can the older confident programmer. 

2) Coding

Many programming apps provide a ‘building blocks’ platform for children to build algorithms with. These applications allow children to drag and drop instructions into lists that eventually create a string of operations. Swift Playground takes a slightly different approach. You have to type out the code using Apple’s swift language to programme anything on the app. The children are still approaching the tasks in a ‘step-by-step’ instructional manner, however, they are taught pretty early on to type rather than dragging and dropping. 

This is important for many reasons. For example, programming in the ‘real world’ is not entirely dependent on dragging pre-made instructions into a list. Sometimes, programmers will have to programme their own instructions. The coding on Swift Playgrounds introduces this idea perfectly. On top of this, coding opens up the app to a wider variety of programming activities. Movement is not the only aspect of programming. You can change the code of a webpage to change its appearance. You can code an operation on a computer to speed up your workflow. Coding brings more variety and a closer link to real-world programming 
Odoo • Text and Image
Odoo • Image and Text

3) Curriculum

Apple have done a huge amount of the work for you when it comes to planning curriculum-relevant lessons. All of the computing and programming aims found in key stage 1, 2 and 3 are directly tackled by activities within the app. Apple have also created entire termly plans that show teachers how to direct learners into tackling the aims. Each lesson plan has all the resources attached to it including videos, keynotes and separate downloadable activities. What's more, the plans are entirely free and available on the iBooks Store. Honestly, they have thought of everything. The main activities are largely based on the Swift Playgrounds app but, they have also built-in explanations for programming terms that see are fun and age-appropriate. Following a ‘Swift Playgrounds’ plan can cut down on your workload massively but still provide (what I believe to be) the best programming opportunities around. 

4) Connectivity

Swift Playgrounds can also interact with other programming apps. ‘Tickle’ is an app that was built entirely with the ‘Swift Language’ at its core. Tickle itself is a different kind of programming experience. Firstly, it is important to note that while ‘onscreen’ activities are available on the app, Tickle is mainly used to programme physical objects. Via Bluetooth, you can connect drones to the app. That means that you can build algorithms that control flight or movement patterns of a variety of vehicles. As the algorithms themselves are built with Swift coding, a child can tap on a little Swift icon (within the app) to see the coding and even adapt it. Essentially this means that children can code different inputs and outputs that are not entirely digital. Many apps are built by Swift Playground coding. It’s possible that many applications will start offering the little Swift icon on their interfaces. This will allow children to see how the apps are built and could help them to widen their programming knowledge 
Odoo • Text and Image
Odoo • Image and Text

5) Continuity

I’ve touched upon this in my first point on variety. Because there is a big span of activities (that is only ever going to expand) a school can confidently embed Swift Playgrounds into every year group. Whilst the activities are getting more challenging, the platform stays the same. In turn, this means that the children experience a seamless programming education. They won’t have to re-learn the intricacies of different programming apps as they move from one year to the next. Therefore, they will be able to concentrate on an important aspect. Learning. Unbelievable, the continuity doesn’t have to stop at key stage 3. The Swift App developer is the next stage available for older or more confident programmers. As you might guess from the name, this is Swift language-based platform that gives children the means to build their own apps. This extra layer of ongoing programming is not only extremely timely and relevant, it also means that there are extension tasks available for the children that really fly with this. Again, it’s all free.

For many schools, Swift Playgrounds has been the reason why they have invested in iPads. For others, it’s breathed new life into their existing devices. Whilst there have always been a variety of Programming apps out there, Apple has managed to step in and create something that works brilliantly for them. That’s an important thing to think about. Because the software is built by Apple for Apple, frankly, it just works perfectly. For me, it’s a no-brainer. If you have iPads already, download Swift Playgrounds and start using it. The programming curriculum will be enriched by its presence and the children will thank you for it.

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About Nick

Nick Acton is a Trainer Specialist at JTRS as well as being a part-time Computing and Music teacher. Through the creation of bespoke training, Nick specialises in empowering educators so they can embed education technologies into their day-to-day classroom practice.