In the Carver Shores area of Orlando, 25 percent of people live below the poverty line and don’t have access to some of the electronics that others enjoy. The Orange County Library System’s new PLANET program aims to fix that by providing an array of brand new computers, laptops, and iPads in the Washington Park branch in the area.
Washington Park Branch Manager Matthew David says the intent of the program is to provide kids and teenagers with apps, games, and programs on the electronics that can entertain and educate them at the same time. PLANET, after all, is an acronym for Play and Learn Area for New Educational Technology.
David was the one who pitched the idea. He saw something similar in the Haines City library where he lives, and took it to library administrators, who liked it enough to let him bring it to the Washington Park branch where he worked.
He decided to expand on the Haines City idea, too — he wanted a higher standard for the apps and games as compared to theirs. He said he made sure not to include only free games or any games with in-game costs one has to pay to keep playing.
“We wanted to guide the space to where it is now,” he said. “We wanted not to just have these electronics for general use, but for educational use. We wanted them to use the apps in different ways.”
Some examples of the apps David listed include a kids’ game called Monument Valley, in which players “build a world” as they go along and apply visual and critical thinking skills to do it, and a NASA app for teenagers where they can simulate building a robot or exploring Mars, learning space facts as they go.
But the games also are far from sole, single-player ventures. David said they often serve as a communal tool, bringing young people together to play.
“The kids are not isolated,” he said. “They come in and use the technology socially. It’s rare that someone comes in to use one device. They’ll probably double up. It’s a chance for them to communicate with each other.”
But overall, David looked proudest when he talked of the chance he now had to help people in the area who were too poor to buy the technology otherwise.
“The kids here don’t have a steady access to these devices,” he said. “It’s important for them to try it out. There’s sort of a digital divide now, and we’re looking for ways to bridge that.”
The library is holding two workshops this month utilizing the technology — one with the NASA app on Oct. 19 and another involving Halloween art-making with the iPad on Oct. 26, both taking place at 4:30 p.m.