Using Technology to Reframe Our Thinking of Literacy

Apple's active role in using Swift Playground to promote curriculum innovation

Title photo

Source:

www.red-nova-engine.ca

Author:

Charles Ai

Updated 2018-10-09

Technology has a language. It’s called code. And we believe coding is an essential skill. Learning to code teaches you how to solve problems and work together in creative ways. And it helps you build apps that bring your ideas to life. We think everyone should have the opportunity to create something that can change the world. So we’ve designed a new program with the tools and resources that lets anyone learn, write, and teach it.    – Apple Education

 

In summer 2014, Apple released its own programming language, Swift, for developing Apps for iOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS. Two years later, in 2016, the company profiled a new App on iPad named Swift Playgrounds as an “innovative new app for iPad that makes learning to code fun and easy for anyone,” and introduced its series of programming lessons within the app designed to introduce new users to the world of writing code. In December 2016, the company kicked off an “Everyone can Code” initiative targeted to younger students within Apple Retail Stores, and have it expanded to high schoolers and community college students in the next year.

Swift Playgrounds aims at leading younger audience into the world of programming via highly visualized interactive puzzle-solving tasks and helping foster a new generation of software developers. The concepts and skills it teaches are not confined to Apple's own Swift language, but are transferable to other programming platforms as well. It is thus capable of enhancing the overall coding literacy of its users, and empowering them to disintegrate complex problems into smaller, simpler, more repeatable tasks (functions and loops, for instance). 

There are at least five advantages of Swift Playground that contribute to its enormous potential to enhance curriculum innovation in teaching coding/programming to young kids.

1. Variety

the App provides different levels of courses that encompass a range of challenges. So students can always find what they are really interested in and can hardly get bored. Teachers can also scaffold learning in a simple step-by-step way and offers plenty of opportunities for differentiation.

swift playgrounds menu

After more than 2 years' development, there are already 
a bunch of courses and challenges available for learners to download for free

2. Coding

Unlike many other coding apps where children can only “drag and drop” blocks of algorithms, Swift Playgrounds teaches the students to type out the code rather than just dragging and dropping — this can give them better ideas on how “real-world” programming environment looks like, and bring them more freedom to think about new  approaches.

swift playgrounds coding

Clear instructions of the task are given on the left with the first few lines of codes.
The codes can be run on the write and its effect is visualized by the funny behaviours of the cartoon character

3. Curriculum

Apple has done tremendous work in curriculum design (an official curriculum guide can be downloaded here). All of the computing and programming aims found in key stage 1, 2, and 3 are directly tackled by activities within the app. Apple has 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. Most importantly, all the lesson plans are free and available on iBooks Store!

free ebooks on Swift Playgrounds on iBooks Store

Apart from Apple's complete curriculum for Swift Playgrounds,
there are also some free ebooks in iBooks Store written by schools and educators 
who shared their own success on using the App and its accessories to better engage students

4. Connectivity

Swift Playgrounds can also interact with other apps and hardware. In some apps, like “Tickle”, which was entirely built with the Swift Language, kids can tap on a little Swift icon within the app to see the coding and even adapt it. What’s more, Apple has also teamed with leading content creators in robotics engineering to provide programme robots, drones, and much more. Using Swift Playground, students can control these robots and small machines using the code they write on iPad, so that they can see their code play out in real time, in the real world!

programmable robots for Swift Playgrounds

Through Playground Subscriptions, learners can receive free code 
and updates about these content and hardware right in Swift Playgrounds app.

5. Continuity

There is a wide range of activities (and still expanding) a school can confidently embed Swift Playgrounds into every year group. While the activities differ a lot from each other in terms of the content and difficulty, the coding platform stays the same. In turn, this means that the children experience a seamless programming education, and won’t have to re-learn the intricacies of different programming apps as they move from one year to the next.

 

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Lastly, I’d like to share the entire lesson plan of an activity held in Apple Retail Stores all over the world. It is called the Hour of Code with Swift Playgrounds aiming to help kids of 10 to 12 make the very first step into the world of coding. It is a global initiative by Computer Science Education Week and Code.org to introduce millions of students to one hour of computer science and computer programming. Below are the screenshots of my code running on my iPad for this lesson, and a certificate of participation I got for my little "achievement".

Finishing code for "hour of code" activity

The activity is about using code to test the combination of various raw materials (spring, seed, crystal, even unidentifiedLifeForm...) 
to create different body parts for the cute robot

Certificate for "Hour of Code" activity

My certificate, Yeah! (You can do it, too!)

 

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Cheers!

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