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Teaching Swift at Beekman

Authored By: 
The Beekman School Technology Teacher

Last year we at Beekman added an introductory course in coding to our computer offerings. Since we are an iPad-based school, I settled on using the Swift programming language developed by Apple. Swift immediately got the attention of a lot of people, including companies such as IBM – and, believe it or not, Google. Swift also is a good development platform for iPad apps.  With Swift, I could teach introductory coding one year, then app development the next year. As luck would have it, while looking at apps that teach programming, I discovered Apple was just introducing Swift Playgrounds.

Swift Playgrounds is a series of guided, interactive tutorials that teach the fundamentals of coding utilizing a lot of animated graphics. I was intrigued by the way Playgrounds looked so I decided to dive in. I had my students download the app to their iPads and we spent the entire semester engrossed in learning Swift.

How did it turn out? Well, a quote by one of my students pretty much sums up the experience:

It was definitely fun! I enjoyed the fact it was not like straight learning to write a program but more like a game. It felt more like a puzzle I was figuring out rather than actually doing work.

Indeed, it was fun. Getting the characters in Playgrounds to complete their tasks truly did teach the fundamentals in a game-like way. To the point: I had visitors to the classroom inquire what type of game-based activity I was running, and who refused to believe me when I said it was a code-teaching app. I also showed the app to a parent who was so intrigued by it he downloaded it himself to run through the tutorials.

There was one problem with Playgrounds, though. So much of the coding is automated that the need to understand structure and syntax is basically deemphasized to a point that minor errors, like an accidental deletion, brings the flow of the whole experience to a halt. I had to introduce classwork outside of Playgrounds into the curriculum to bolster the students’ ability to understand their errors and manually work with their code revisions.

Outside of that, Swift Playgrounds is, as my student said, fun! I look forward to teaching it again this year.


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