February 18, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Swift Playgrounds: Not Just Another Coding App |SLJ Review

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Are your students budding coders? Do they want to create and design apps? Apple has released a sophisticated app for students serious about programming.

Swift Playgrounds, a free iPad app (iOS 10) that teaches Apple’s programming language Swift, was among the major announcements at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in June 2016. Released in mid-September, Swift Playgrounds is a robust app offering hours of programming lessons.


Swift Playgrounds consists of two modules that teach functions, loops, variables, parameters, arrays, and more. Each module has game-like lessons that build in complexity as each level is completed. In addition to the modules, there are additional challenges that allow users to test their newly-honed coding skills. Templates also provide a space for users to design their own games, virtual worlds, and programs.


The second module, Beyond the Basics, introduces students to variables, parameters, and arrays. This is how Swift Playgrounds sets itself apart from other coding apps, by teaching in-depth skills. The Beyond the Basics module teaches concepts that students would likely learn in a high school computer science course. By the end of this module, students are ready to build their own virtual worlds and apps using Swift.

To make this app more accessible to kids and beginners, there are a few improvements that could be made in how debugging is taught. Highlighting the code as it runs would help users more easily identify and correct mistakes, as well as see how each string of commands works. More tips for correcting errors in code would also be useful. As it is, when code doesn’t work, there might be a hint why, but there are few resources for troubleshooting. While this reflects real-world problems a programmer might face, as an app aimed at non-programmers, more hints and tips would be valuable to the learning process.


1610swift-playgrounds-scoreSwift Playgrounds is a solid app for students interested in programming.Think of this more as an online course rather than a game. For example, I jumped ahead to the Beyond the Basics module and tried working on the variables lessons. Big mistake. I had skipped the lessons on conditional statements and tried several iterations of my code before realizing I needed to use an “if” statement. The sequence of lessons is purposeful on Apple’s part in order to develop the necessary foundation for more complicated skills.

Best for middle and high school students (as well as adults), the instructions need to be read carefully, and users need patience and determination to complete challenging tasks. Throughout the app’s lessons, students are learning key computational thinking skills, not just how to code. They are recognizing patterns, practicing decomposition, and writing algorithms, valuable to developing critical thinking and problem solving skills while also learning the Swift programming language.


Jennifer Hanson is director of library services at Worcester Academy in Massachusetts.

About Jennifer Hanson

Jennifer Hanson is director of library services at Worcester Academy in Massachusetts.

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  1. Brilliant! It’s fascinating to witness all the ways education is changing and adapting to meet the demands of the ever-growing tech market.