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Photo via UW/'non-geeky' science classroom
Photo via UW/’non-geeky’ science classroom

Tech companies have long embraced the idea that the more welcoming and comfortable you make a space, the greater the chance that workers will want to spend more time there. Now, a new University of Washington study is finding the same concept applies to high school classrooms — at least when it comes to girls.

The UW study of 270 high school students, ages 14 to 18, found that “three times as many girls were interested in enrolling in a computer science class if the classroom was redesigned to be less ‘geeky’ and more inviting,” according to an email release.

“Our findings show that classroom design matters — it can transmit stereotypes to high school students about who belongs and who doesn’t in computer science,” said lead author Allison Master, a post-doctoral researcher at the UW’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS), in a statement.

Photo via UW/'geeky' classroom
Photo via UW/’geeky’ classroom

In the study, researchers showed the group of boys and girls pictures of two different computer science classrooms, one with “geeky” objects like computer parts and Star Trek posters, and the nontraditional classroom with plants, art and nature pictures.

The findings? Girls, at 68 percent, preferred the non-geeky room, while only 48 percent of boys preferred the non-traditional science classroom.

But something else was different — the boys didn’t express a solid preference of one room over the other, and it didn’t affect their level of interest in studying computer science.

“Stereotypes make girls feel like they don’t fit with computer science,” Master said in the statement. “That’s a barrier that isn’t there for boys. Girls have to worry about an extra level of belonging that boys don’t have to grapple with.”

The study’s results were published in the Journal of Educational Psychology this month. Researchers said looking at adolescents is a “key age group for recruitment,” into STEM fields as that is when students are preparing for college and thinking about career paths.

So, teachers ditch the stereotypical “geeky” gear, and maybe get some plants instead? It’s a start.

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