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Learning Swift with Trulia

Whether we’re volunteering during work hours or traveling all the way to Peru, Trulians love to give back. I recently learned that a group of Trulians have started collaborating to teach students to code. Naturally, I needed to learn more, so I sat down with the woman who spear-headed it all, Associate Software Engineer Laila Rizvi. Here’s what she had to say:

What is the program you’re involved with and how did you get involved?
The program is with Citizen Schools, which is an organization that collaborates with schools to expand the learning day for students. Volunteers teach weekly 90-minute classes on a topic of their choice, and the goal is to help prepare students for professional success. I am teaching a 10-week course on programming to students in Oakland, Calif. There are 15 sixth graders in my class, and we’re using Swift Playgrounds, a new free learning application from Apple.

I joined the program because I’ve always had an interest in education. Before college, I wanted to be a math teacher. In college, I learned to code and I fell in love with it. After graduating from UC Davis last June, I started to work at Trulia as a software developer, but I wanted a way to continue to pursue my interests in education. Volunteering with Citizen Schools provides me with the flexibility to teach my own programming class while still leaving time in the week for my full time job.

Why did you choose Swift Playgrounds for the program?
I chose to teach with Swift Playgrounds because the application is a fun and engaging way to learn programming. Swift Playgrounds is a top-down view of a character who moves where you instruct him to using Swift code. It looks like a video game — and really it is a video game, except your controller is an interactive text editor with lines of code instead of a joystick. For each new coding concept in the application, there are a set of lessons (called game levels) that test each student’s knowledge and help the students learn the fundamentals of programming. (You can learn more about my experience teaching with Swift Playgrounds here.)

What’s a typical class like?
At the start of class, I arrange the desks in the room to resemble the game levels we studied in the previous class. A student volunteer plays Byte, the character in Swift Playgrounds. In the first few levels of Swift Playgrounds, the functions moveForward(), collectGem() and turnLeft() are introduced. I have the class “program” Byte using these functions to move Byte through the room to collect iPads and distribute them for the students use. In this case, we use function collectGem() to tell Byte to collect the iPads (which are the gems). Once Byte has collected all the iPads for the class, I introduce a new topic for the day and we begin the lesson. It’s a lot of fun!

What are some of the products the students have built?
We’ve only had five classes so far. In that time, the students have completed some game levels in the application and have learned how to write their own functions, use loops and learned how conditional statements work. The students have a showcase at the end of the course where they will be presenting what they learned to the public. For the showcase, they will be working on designing their own game levels for Swift Playgrounds in teams.

Did you get any help with the course?
Yes, some of my colleagues at Trulia have helped me both prepare for and teach the course. Trulia iOS Consultant, Joey Jarosz, helped me decide what learning application to use for the course. Trulia Director, Megan Standish, offered to let me practice teaching her children with Swift Playgrounds to see how I liked the application. After I decided that I wanted to teach my class with Swift Playgrounds, I reached out to Trulia’s Vice President of Engineering, Jeff McConathy, to see if the company could donate iPads to the school. Jeff helped us get some donations and spread the word to other Trulians who both lent and donated iPads to us.

As Jeff helped get the word out about the course, Trulians John Zorko and Corina Putinar asked to help co-teach the class. Having three teachers in the classroom has made it a lot easier to have one-on-one time with each student. It’s been incredible seeing the amount of support we’ve had from Trulians for the course! For one of our classes, we were even lucky enough to have Trulia’s Mobile Director, Travis Winfrey, come and talk to the students about how important learning to code is for their future. If any of you guys are reading this, thanks for your help!

How can someone else get involved?
It’s easy – just visit the Citizen Schools website and apply online. Hopefully readers here will join us – it’s very rewarding!