Science museums and science centres are popular informal learning spaces. They play a prime role in public engagement in science enabling people to have first-hand experience of scientific phenomena and to develop curiosity, awe, motivation, interest to know more, understanding and learning. Science museums are also actively involved in school education providing a range of activities for pupils, offering resources and specialist support to teachers and organising training initiatives for school staff. In particular, school groups are among the audiences most present in the majority of museums as well as, in many cases, the priority of museum education services. Children are seen not only as the future museum visitors, but also as citizens and community members, of an age characterised by strong need as well as ability for learning. Museum visiting is considered an important educational tool for the development of pupils’ awareness of cultural heritage, of skills and knowledge (cognitive and historical), and of aesthetic and scientific understanding. On the other hand, building familiarity with such an experience helps the development of a regular relationship between the pupils and the museum, which is hopefully going to continue throughout their lives. Bevan et al3 argue that the objective of creating formal-informal collaborations is not only the objects or collections that are more accessible from a quantitative point of view, but a more meaningful, rich and contextualised approach of accessing scientific material. They conclude that formal and informal collaborations can be designed to draw upon:
• The ways in which informal learning environments support direct multi-modal experiences with multi-faceted portrayals of science, presented within their cultural context, and using authentic objects and phenomena;
• The ways in which school contexts can provide the sustained time, and developmental and pedagogical expertise, to build increasingly complex understandings of science phenomena and processes.
Inquiry activities in both formal and informal settings are important for enhancing the students’ experience. The general point is worth emphasising: when planning for inquiry learning, schools in general and science teachers in particular need to consider inquiry activities for both formal and informal settings. Inquiry project examples of school field trips in out-of-school settings, mostly in museums, science centres and open field illustrate a wide range of collaborations including curriculum-based inquiry learning activities with the use of technology, collaborative inquiry activities, teacher practice, professional development, after-school summer programs and family and community events whereas some of them are designed for students and others for teachers.3 To do this, they need to have shared understandings of the social and the structural affordances that characterise formal and informal settings, as well as integrating the scientific curriculum, inquiry learning activities and intended learning outcomes to each setting. Schools are concerned with many different science subject areas and museums and/ or science centres are concerned with students of all ages and with a large amount of digital resources and scientific collections.3 By providing to teachers the necessary design tools to develop such inquiry learning activities that will afford scientific investigations in both formal and informal settings, it may be possible to empower teachers‘ and students‘ relation with science. Throughout the world, and for many decades, science-rich cultural institutions, such as zoos, aquaria, museums, and others, have collaborated with schools to provide students, teachers and families with opportunities to expand their experiences and understanding of science. Museum visits had previously been commonly regarded by schools as an end-of-term treat, and a chance for the teacher to relax, the museum is now considered an important learning resource, a teaching support, and a means for developing a lasting relationship between the school and its surrounding territory. Following this period, recent work in the field of museum education for schools has been marked by an increasing realisation of the possibilities for cross-curricular, cross-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary learning. Collaboration between school and museum means, or should mean, work on the basis of an educational project, that is, a framework within which the learning process integrates the work carried out in classroom and the needs of the teachers and pupils with the museum experience and the new knowledge to acquire. The learning aspect of an educational project implies a fundamental role for factors related to meaning-making and understanding of pupils, such as the already-acquired knowledge, personal experience, interests, motivations, social interaction with the other members of the group; while the teaching aspect integrates intentions, objectives and teaching methods, decisive for the orientation of the project. These two aspects relate to the work of both the teacher, who devises the project on the basis of the work at school and of the needs of his/ her pupils; and the museum educator, who works in collaboration with the teacher and contributes to the project as museum expert. In other words, we are talking about a process built on the interactive relationship between the visit at the museum and related work in the classroom before and after the visit, an interaction that allows to exploit the unique pedagogical potential of original objects and the use of the museum as teaching and learning resource. Research indeed reveals that the education potential of the museum increases when opportunities are offered for linking the pupils’ museum experience with their work in the classroom; whereas such potential is lower in cases of museum visits that are not made part of a project, or of museum activities that create no links with the knowledge and experience of pupils. Work on the basis of educational projects is perceived in most cases as a three-part unit of preparatory work, museum visit, and follow-up work in the classroom: Falk and Dierking have carried out research studies that revealed the potential of school trips to museums and other informal environments for promoting long-term relationship with science. However, despite the attention to the educational potential of museums and science centres, the nature of learning is perceived as difficult to define, and consequently difficult to measure. The actual situation sees at the same time many local collaborations between school and museum and a lack of institutionalization. The reasons are many: lack of funding, complex evaluation, connection between different agendas and institutions. The following best practices represent an important contribution to the recognition of the collaboration between school and museum and a step toward a institutional collaboration between them for IBSE