EASTSIDE — At first glance Digital Dragon’s studio looks like a startup company’s creative office space. Natural light hits the blue walls, green shag carpet, and the nontraditional work desks.
But there’s also Legos, crafts, and a dragon made out of cardboard with light-up eyes.
The space is a clubhouse of sorts for tech-minded kids who want to learn about programing, 3-D printers, video game design, and robotics. Stop by for one of their after-school classes, which start on Thursday, and you might meet the future Santa Monica startup CEO.
But the program, which aims to educate 8 to 18 year olds, is not as much about career paths as it is about fostering creativity among enthusiastic kids at an earlier age, said Laurie Kantor Finn, who founded Dragon Design with her husband, Seth Finn.
“We’re not trying to prepare kids for their jobs after college, but if they’re interested in it now they don’t have to wait until AP something in high school to be exposed to it,” she said. “We’re also trying to do it in this fun way where it’s like a clubhouse. It’s an after school destination in addition to or instead of sports.”
The Finns don’t have a background in tech — they both have liberal arts degrees from UCLA — but as their son, a student at Lincoln Middle School, fell in love with computer science they realized how hard it is to find good extracurricular activities devoted to the field.
They hired John Balash, who’s taught and worked in educational video game design, to build the curriculum.
In one 90-minute class, which runs parents $33, Balash will teach students how to build a functioning synthesizer out of magnetic circuits. In another, he’ll show them how to make designs with a 3-D printer. After the schools get back from spring break, they’ll offer a more in-depth programming class for older kids.
Many of the projects focus on creativity as much as they do electronics. At an open house the Finns held on Saturday, kids programed vehicles to drive in a circle and then a square, but they also decorated the vehicles to look like dragons or robots.
“The idea of exploration with immediate feedback is really enticing for students of all ages because they get to see what happens immediately,” Balash said. “They’re used to the crafts and they can build from there but it’s a really nice system. It’s a basics in programing in a hands-on way.”
The classes aren’t meant to compete with the technology programs offered at the public schools, which the Finns lauded. Balash is even teaching an after-school robotics class at Lincoln Middle School this month.
While they haven’t yet had direct interaction with any tech startup companies (though they are plentiful in the area surrounding the studio, which is nestled in a backlot off Nebraska Avenue) Laurie Finn said that the influence of Silicon Beach makes the classes a practical choice in the city by the sea.
“The Santa Monica parents are pretty hip to knowing what’s going on around here,” she said. “Whether or not they also work in that tech industry they know that this is the future.”
With the classes, they are trying to change the side of the screen the kids are on, Seth Finn said, to make a passive experience an active one.
“There’s plenty of great content out there and that’s probably worth kids’ time to consume, but we just want to put a piece in their puzzle where they can be creators and builders of tech instead of just taking other people’s technology,” he said. “So we’re just trying flip the scales a little bit.”
The company’s website is DigitalDragon.co