Three Semesters of Teaching App Development

When I started teaching Intro to App Development with Swift a year and a half ago, I had never taught a high school class before. The only professional teaching experience I had was from my days leading workshops at the Apple Store. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to share my love of coding with the students, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous. Now, closing out the third semester of teaching this class, I can say it’s been a big success and I have learned quite a lot along the way.

My class is an elective, which means it is something the students can choose to take but is not a requirement. This generally causes me to have two types of students: those that are genuinely interested in learning coding, and those that want a fun elective that is also relatively easy. The class size has been pretty small so far, with this semester being the largest with eight students.

What Has Worked Well

The curriculum that Apple provides for Intro to App Development with Swift is completely free, which is obviously a good thing. It is easy to follow along with, starting from an absolute beginning standpoint and going from there. This class isn’t just teaching students how to use Xcode, it’s teaching them the Swift programming language and coding concepts along with it. Each lesson has self-guided project files for the students to work through.

What Could Be Better

Overall the curriculum is a great starting point for offering this class – it’s hard to complain about something that is free and easy to use – but there are several ways that I think it falls short.

I appreciate that it starts with no programming experience required – very few of my students have any coding experience whatsoever – however, I feel like the beginning of the book stretches itself out too far. It could be condensed which would keep the students’ attention better.

The book also seems geared toward a self-guided approach. I really think you could download the book on your own and go through the whole thing without a teacher at all. Which would be nice if that’s what you want, but for a high school class it left my students wanting more. On the days that I would deviate from the book and try to do some sort of project together as a class, they were much more interested and engaged.

Going Forward

I plan to take the curriculum as a jumping off point and really make the class my own going forward. I may not even use the provided book. If I had an infinite amount of time, I would write my own, but realistically that probably won’t happen. However, I can write my own lessons that are more group focused rather than self guided.

I also plan to increase the pace of learning Swift. My plan will be to spend the first half of the semester focused on learning the major concepts of Swift, and then spend the second half of the semester making an app as a class from nothing. Maybe we can even come up with the concept for the app as a class.

I’m very grateful for the curriculum that Apple offers. Without it, my class may never have happened. But I’m excited to make the class my own going forward and see it continue to improve in the years to come.

Thoughts On iPad Pro As A Laptop Replacement

There’s a lot of talk about whether or not the new iPad Pro can be a laptop replacement and get real work done. While I don’t have a new iPad Pro yet (mine is on the way), we went with the previous iPad Pro this fall as the main/sole device we give to teachers, and overall, the response has been positive. There are always going to be complaints and growing pains when making a transition in technology (especially among teachers – no offense, teachers), but it seems like a definite improvement over the aging Windows laptops we were using. I’d like to go over some of the things that the iPad excels at as a laptop replacement, as well as some of the ways it could still improve to make it an uncompromising laptop replacement.

Ways It Excels As A Laptop Replacement:

The versatility of the iPad’s interaction methods mean it can be a perfect fit for anybody. Whether our teachers prefer to use the Apple Pencil and hand write everything, use the touch screen, use an external keyboard, or some combination of the three, the iPad easily adapts to what makes them most comfortable.

An iPad that is using AirPlay to display on a TV allows a teacher to be more mobile than a laptop that is tethered to a VGA cable. They can present from anywhere in the classroom with the iPad in their hand, which lets them better keep an eye on their students.

When it comes to portability, the iPad is light years ahead of the old Windows laptops we were using, which honestly isn’t that hard. But even compared to modern, ultraportable laptops, the iPad is hard to beat. I loving using my iPad as my main work device because it is so lightweight (it’s only 1 pound). Carrying it around with me on campus as I go from class to class and building to building is actually pleasant. Our teachers have really loved the drastic change in size and weight between their laptop and their iPad.

For our teachers, the iPad has been more intuitive than their Windows laptops. This is surely subjective, but it’s something that I appreciate as the head of technology. Any problem they can solve on their own frees me to handle the more difficult issues that arise.

Areas It Can Still Improve:

There are still a decent number of websites that think since you’re visiting from an iPad, you must want the mobile version of that site. On a 10.5” screen (much less an 11” or 12.9”) this just looks like poor design. You can hold your finger down on the reload button at the top of the window and choose to load a desktop version of the site, but this is hit or miss for me. I hope someday soon the web will treat the iPad like a regular computer and not a mobile one.

Apple has done a good job of bringing feature parity between its Mac iWork applications and their iOS variants. I’m not aware of things you can do on one that you cannot do on the other. The same cannot be said for both Google’s and Microsoft’s productivity suites – the iPad versions of these apps are definitely watered down. You can still access all of your files and get basics done, but there are going to be features missing. For me this hasn’t been a problem, but some of our teachers have missed certain PowerPoint features that they had on their laptops. Hopefully Microsoft and Google fix this. In addition to these, Apple also hasn’t brought their professional applications (Logic Pro and Final Cut Pro) to the iPad. As long as there are things that people need to do on an iPad that they cannot get done because of missing or watered down apps, it’s going to be hard to call the iPad a 100% laptop replacement for everyone. It works for us, but may not work for you.


For our teachers, the iPad has been a definite improvement from what they were using before. As I said earlier, there are growing pains. It takes a little time to transition your workflow to something new. That said, the iPad has been an exciting new direction for us. I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.

Series 4

I take a break from talking about education technology and app development to talk about how much I love this Series 4 watch. Going from the original watch to this is like a whole new world. This feels like how the Apple Watch should’ve felt all along.


In & Out 2.0.8

There’s an update out today for In & Out. This update fixes a bug that wouldn’t let you sign out a visitor if there was more than one person signed in with the same name.

We’re Going With iPad

Summer is in full swing, which means my life is crazy busy at work. So busy that I haven’t written an update in a while. A lot has happened since I last wrote about choosing between iPad and Chromebook for our students and teachers.

The final decision was made to go iPad not too long after my last post, but a lot more decisions needed to be made before everything was set it stone. This post will detail where we ended up. I have to say I’m really excited about where we’re headed.

iPad and iPad Pro

Apple recently released a new iPad that can take advantage of the Apple Pencil while staying at the education price of $299 (or $294 if you buy in packs of ten). We’ve decided this will be our iPad of choice for our middle school (grades 6 through 8). It should last them three years and be able to do everything they will need to do during that time. They’ll also be using the new Logitech Crayon rather than the Apple Pencil, which should be a little more durable for their age group as well as save us $40 per student.

As for high school (grades 9 through 12), we’ll be going with the 10.5” iPad Pro. We’re hoping this one will last four years, although Apple really tried to convince us to recycle both models every two to three. Since this is a brand new program, we’ll have to see how they hold up. I think the slightly bigger screen and faster processor will be a benefit for the high schoolers, as well as feel like an upgrade over the iPad they will have had in middle school.

Classroom Setup

The updated technology in the classrooms is something else I’m excited about. We’re replacing projectors that are embarrassingly old with 65 inch TVs that will have an Apple TV connected. Teacher will be able to use AirPlay to show any content on their iPad or the student iPads. Currently their Windows laptops connect via a VGA connection in the wall to project onto a Smart board that is equally as old as the projectors. Being able to show what they want from anywhere in the room is going to be a game changer.

Another benefit is going to be the app Apple has released called Classroom, which lets teachers manage all of the student iPads in their classroom. If you haven’t seen it, check it out. It’s amazing.

Going Forward

This is a huge project for us. We’ve been behind in technology for a while now, so it’s thrilling to be jumping so far ahead. But jumping ahead means a lot to plan and prepare. Here’s hoping for an exciting school year that builds a technology program that we can be proud of for years to come.

More Thoughts On Teaching Swift

I wrote previously about how my semester has gone teaching Apple’s “Intro to App Development with Swift” curriculum. It’s been a success, and the students really seemed to enjoy the class, but there are a few things more I’d like to say about it.

Since this was my first semester teaching a high school class, I didn’t really know what to expect time management-wise. I figured the forty-five minutes a day, five days a week, would be plenty of time to cover these topics in the textbook. I even worried about what we’d do after we finished the book since it looked like it’d get over so quickly. I was wrong.

It turns out a forty-five minute class isn’t as long as it sounds. I found my self wishing the class was closer to 1.5 hours or so. Getting into a topic and explaining it and then doing the exercises and then discussing the exercises always took multiple days. When you’re battling the attention span of an adolescent, this wasn’t always the easiest thing.

But that’s ok, right? Welcome to the joy of teaching high schoolers, right? Well, yeah, I get that what I’m complaining about isn’t really new to being a teacher.

So that brings me to my next point – I think this needs to be a year long course rather than the semester that Apple suggests. My students learned a lot of the basic concepts of Swift and Xcode, but we never really got to dive into what it felt like to create an app from concept to completion. They can follow instructions to build an app, and they did with the final project, but I couldn’t give them a concept and them go make it from nothing. I feel like with a year they could have done that.

Since the class isn’t really geared towards a whole year, I’m toying with the idea of offering a more advanced class that students could take after this one. I think the students would like to go deeper into Swift and app development, so maybe offering this Intro class and then a second Advanced class to take next would be a good solution. It’s too late to add a second class for this upcoming school year, but maybe we could do it the next.

☆ In & Out 2.0.7

There’s a small update out today for In & Out.

  • Visitor reports are better formatted when exported as PDFs
  • You can now capture signatures at both sign in and sign out
  • A bug has been fixed that was preventing visitors from signing out when autocomplete was turned off

Check it out on the App Store

Chromebook vs iPad in Education

When I look around the education technology space, it’s hard for me to deny Google’s Chromebook has a leg up right now in the classroom. When you combine the fact that Chromebooks are incredibly easy for an IT staff to manage with the fact that Chromebooks are incredibly affordable, it’s easy to see why so many schools are choosing these devices.

My school is going to be making a transition from a BYOD program to a 1-to-1 program hopefully this upcoming school year. As part of our preparation for this change, we tried to make an honest comparison of Chromebook and iPad. The one rule we gave ourselves was to not make a decision solely based on price. Full disclosure: I expected to choose Chromebook as the device that would be best for us.

Chromebook Advantages


  • I can get a Lenovo Chromebook device for education with the management console license for around $220. Even with the iPad’s recent price drop to $299 for education, that’s a big difference when you are purchasing these devices in bulk. This doesn’t even include needing to by a case and the Apple Pencil for the iPad to make use of all of its potential.
  • Repairing Chromebooks also has the potential to be much cheaper. iPad repairs are pretty much Apple Store / Apple Authorized Provider only. I could do Chromebook repairs in house for what seems to be a cheaper price.

Google Accounts

  • Our teachers and students already have Google accounts. Students would use the same login they already know to sign into their Chromebooks. No need to create another account.


  • We already have a couple of carts of Chromebooks, so the students and teachers are already familiar with these devices.

These three advantages are definitely good reasons to go Chromebook. But I said I wasn’t going to make a decision solely based on price, and I don’t want to make a decision based on aversion to change. Chromebooks seem like a good pick but I’m not sure they’re the pick.

iPad Advantages


The iPad form factor is more portable. I know the Chromebook is just as easy to carry from one class to another, but what I mean is the iPad can be used easily while walking around. If a teacher wants to have class outside, the student can be using the iPad while standing up. Doing this with a laptop form factor is nowhere near as easy.

Interaction Methods

The iPad’s multiple interaction methods seem to naturally make it more creative to me. You can use the touch screen, a keyboard, or the Apple Pencil – or any combination of the three. This would let a student that does better writing notes by hand do what works best for them, while a student that can do much better typing notes gets to do what works for them. Apple Pencil (and the education only Crayon) are hands down better than anything else on the market. They’re game changers.

Teacher Resources

The only way to successfully roll out a huge technology change like this is to make sure the teachers get the training and support they need. It seems clear to me that Apple has more resources in the area. They’ll come on campus and train your teachers for you.

Teachers also need good resources for classroom management, and the Classroom app is another game changer. The amount of control they will have over the student iPads is awesome. I love this app.

Content Creation

I know there are ways out there to edit videos and music on a Chromebook, but this is an area where Apple really shines (and has shined for a long time). Also, the iPad camera is better than what you’ll find in a ~$220 Chromebook. Student projects thus can be much more creative and engaging.

Our Choice

So what is our choice going to be? The Chromebook has some advantages, but after making this list it became clear to us that the iPad is a much stronger option than we had previously realized. I’m not sure what the outcome will be, but right now I’m leaning towards iPad.

Teaching Swift and Spritekit

This semester I became a teacher. Granted, I used to teach classes and personal training sessions back during my days at the Apple Store. But this semester I started teaching a class to high school students.

Apple came out with a curriculum for teaching Swift and app development to students called Intro to App Development with Swift. I jumped on the opportunity to share one of my passions with any student that was interested.

Now that the school year is almost over, I can say it’s been a success! I was able to take students that had absolutely zero programming experience and get them comfortable with the Swift programming language and Xcode. And I had a great time!

It was a small class of six students, five of which were seniors who had their last day this week. This means I’m left with one student for the next three weeks until school is out. Oh, and one more thing: we finished the textbook! What to do?

The student that I have left picked up on Swift pretty easily. He’s also shown a big interest in gaming (what teenager doesn’t show an interest in gaming?). So, I had the idea to dip our toes into game development for the remainder of the year by learning Spritekit.

This is new for me too, so we’re learning together. So far, so good!

The BYOD Experiment

In theory, a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy for students should be a good idea. Although, the more I think about it, the less I’m sure I even agree with that. We’ve been BYOD for about five years (I’ve only been here for three), and it just isn’t working.

Teachers don’t know what devices students are going to have with them (Mac, PC, Chromebook, iPad, iPhone, Android), so they can’t effectively prepare for using technology in their classroom. So what do they do? They rarely use technology in their classroom.

Students inevitably end up bringing phones as their device, which leads them to playing games or sending iMessages or using Snapchat during class. Up until I blocked it on the network, we had a Fortnite epidemic on our hands.

So what are we going to do about it? I have some plans to turn things around.

One thing is for sure. It’s going to be a busy summer.