About a month ago, I downloaded a beta version of Apple’s newest iOS on to my iPad so I could try out the widely advertised Swift Playgrounds app that would be installed along with the new operating system. I’ve been a supporter of teaching kids how to code for a few years, and I was curious to see how this app might be different from the many my students have been using.
Swift is a type of programming language that was developed by Apple. A quick Wikipedia browse will bury you in daunting technical language if you are, like me, more educator than coder. So, I will tell you that the biggest difference between this app and many of the ones that are already out there for kids is that Swift programming uses words and symbols, not blocks.
My sense is that most “real-life” programming languages don’t use drag and drop blocks like Scratch or Hopscotch. So, in that respect, Playgrounds (which is what the app shows up as on your device) stands out from the crowd. However, I wouldn’t disregard block programming apps completely. They are excellent for teaching students the logic of programming – particularly non-readers.
Playgrounds is definitely not for non-readers. Reading is essential for anyone using the app, and I would guess it is at least a 4th grade reading level. I would not, therefore, recommend Playgrounds for younger students unless they are paired up with a capable partner.
The graphics in the app are okay, but nothing ground-breaking. As with many coding apps, the user is trying to direct a cute creature around paths and obstacles.
The main advantages of the app are that it is free, offers many levels and challenges, and gives users an opportunity to see how a professional programming language works. I would recommend the app for elementary/middle school students who have demonstrated understanding of key coding concepts and seem to be ready for something a bit more advanced.
Playgrounds should be available today with the download of the newest iOS. I’ll be curious to hear what you think!