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Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments
tracing the impact of these dire historical circumstances—and the world war and period of prosperity that followed—on their behavior across adulthood.30
The delineation of cohorts is always somewhat arbitrary, although they may be marked by major historical events. In the United States, some common cohort groupings are Postwar/Depression, Baby Boomers, Generation X (born between 1965 and 1979), and Generation Y (born between 1980 and 1999), also referred to as Millennials. Delineations may differ across cultures or societies.
One important way in which cohort differences are particularly noticeable is in their experiences with and attitudes toward technology. World War I and Postwar/Depression groups who grew up without television are much more attuned to the oral medium of radio, which requires more personal visualization of people and events. Baby Boomers had TV, satellites, and a man on the moon but no personal computers until they were well into adulthood. By the time the first cohort of Generation Xers became teenagers, the computer revolution had started. Late Generation X and all Generation Y children in the United States have always had access to a wide variety of technology. Generation Y has come of age (and continue to do so) with a full range of the current technological tools—e-mail, the Internet, cell phones, text messages, and social networking. Such differences have great potential to affect science learning. For example, in the WolfQuest case study (Chapter 1), it was clear that children and teens had no trouble learning science in the context of a computer game; in fact, learning on this platform was very comfortable for them. It is questionable whether the same could be said of many baby boomers, especially the older members of this group.
It is not always clear how distinctive characteristics of an age cohort will affect each of life’s stages. Instead, informal science educators and program designers must be responsive to the general principle that the program needs of each age group will be determined by the interaction of the primary developmental features and demands of the group’s life stage, as well as the enduring characteristics that mark the group’s age cohort. In short, each generation of children, adolescents, young adults, and older adults will be somewhat different, modulating the general script of a life stage by virtue of the idiosyncrasies of their cohort.