With recent pushes to establish programming as a foreign language course in schools, the mainstream appeal of computer work is becoming more and more pronounced. Initiatives such as this, though debated among education professionals, are a great way to build up programming and computer science as disciplines learnable by anyone.
Apple has naturally made their own forays into contributing to the public proliferation of coding knowledge. Their decision to make Swift open source has encouraged collaboration by developers, and their free programming education app, Swift Playgrounds, is being praised for its potential to introduce kids to the language.
Swift Playgrounds takes the rigors of learning to code and makes it fun.
No, really. Playgrounds is sitting at a rating of 4.5 in the Apple store, integrating bright colors and environments to create a kid-friendly approach to programming. It is, in many ways, a puzzle game at heart, though its primary purpose is education and it lacks a difficulty curve. Players implement code snippets to move animated characters through the environment, collecting gems and activating switches along the way.
The neat thing about Playgrounds for kids (and even adults unfamiliar with programming) is that it breaks up the learning into small, very manageable pieces. Many are discouraged from learning programming because it seems like an infinitely complicated pursuit; a hobby only for “smart people.” However, Apple is making strides here to break that stereotype and encourage exploration of computer science, even at a young age.
Plus, learning Swift is highly applicable. While your children will likely not be hired by a Silicon Valley tech company immediately after using Playgrounds, Swift’s increasing prevalence gives them an advantage if they ever decide that they’d like to build iOS apps with the language. It also encourages free exploration and basic development on part of the players; instead of railroading them, players are encouraged to modify code in a variety of ways to see how the environment changes as a result.
As part of an initiative with Code.org, Apple is offering free Hour of Code lessons in its stores, teaching using Swift Playgrounds. Oddly enough, the appeal of these lessons seems to extend to an older audience than Playgrounds’ 8-12 age range would indicate, so perhaps it’s safe to say that programming is becoming a more popular, or even trendy, hobby.
Apple is releasing regular “challenges” for Playgrounds; modules that test more advanced players. With that plus an additional estimated 25 hours of lessons, it offers a sizable amount of content for learners to work through.
Everyone learns at their own pace, but with a solid structure, the ability to revisit any lesson, and the aforementioned additional challenges, Apple has done all they can to make an admittedly complicated process accessible.
As somebody very familiar with Swift, I can vouch for the app’s accuracy and innovative approach to teaching the language. That said, as a developer, this also means that, for the first time ever, I can code on an iPad and export Xcode playgrounds (in this case, a reference to the UI editing tool that the software provides) to a tablet for further work.
That’s right, Playgrounds has something for everyone. Three months in, and Apple is still pushing for the app to educate anyone looking to learn development, and I would personally like to welcome anyone, young or old, looking to expand their horizons through code.