Children at Netherfield Primary School experiencing a unique, hybrid learning form

Postmarked digital learning

Could the humble postage stamp be the key to bridging the digital and physical worlds of learning in schools?

To mark 50 years of Royal Mail’s special stamps issues, Fantom (an expert in creating digital collectibles and play patterns for children with a digital collectibles platform), the ecl foundation (a research based children’s charity) and the children and teachers of Year 4 at Netherfield Primary School came together to explore the relevancy of the postage stamp for young people. Could the stamp, gamified via a digital collecting platform, support the curriculum learning objectives in a classroom environment?

Royal Mail’s ‘Remarkable Lives’ stamp series

In October and November 2015, 55 students from Netherfield Primary School in Nottingham (aged 8 to 9) were given access to their own online collectible platform on iPads. The game integrates the Royal Mail 2014 special collections into one digital stamp collecting album so that children can play quizzes, pairs games, and puzzles to earn individual stamps and digital achievements.

The impact of the research emerged in three themes: digital and hybrid learning, intergenerational and community learning, and cultural and historical education.

1. Digital and hybrid learning

With the growing role of technology in society and the workplace, digital skills are an essential part of children’s education. Unfortunately, schools in the UK are often ill-equipped to provide them. This project offered a structure and platform to overcome this challenge by bridging the children’s excitement with technology and the physical world of stamps and what they represent historically and culturally. Prior to the project, 52% of the children didn’t know what a stamp was. However, 67% had played some sort of digital video game, and so the melding of the children’s interest and engagement in collecting the stamps with their interest and engagement in digital video games was a critical objective for the success of the project. The teachers needed their students and their own sons and daughters to help them find confidence with the digital game; and the students needed their teachers, carers, parents, and grandparents to access postage stamps, to see and feel real stamps, and stamp collections — a beautiful symbiosis.

To complement the digital learning, ‘trading stations’ were installed in each classroom where students could make trades from their own physical collections (of football cards, for example, or Lego), as well as 15-minute iPad slots, where students would log into their stamp collection and play the game. Teachers could also reward children with codes that unlocked stamps, integrating the game into everyday classroom situations.

2. Intergenerational and community learning

In his book ‘Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect’, Matthew Lieberman shares research that demonstrates how important social learning — learning with and through others — is in schools. Creating a sense of belonging and connectedness enables us to learn more effectively — we perform better in memory tests if we encode information socially, for example. The online platform in this project gave value to the children’s own ‘out-of-school’ knowledge of video games; the stamp collections topic invited the appreciation of older relatives’ personal collections, stories and experience; and the content of the stamps introduced cultural and historical figures and their significance to the children’s context today. And in terms of social and emotional learning, new relationships emerged as a result of trading stamps as well as discussions about what makes a ‘fair trade’, thus practicing social and interpersonal skills.

3. Cultural and historical education

Collections issued that year included Classic Children’s Television, Remarkable Lives, Great British Film, Prime Ministers, The Great War, and Buckingham Palace. This provided the catalyst for exploring all sorts of cultural and historical curriculum areas. For example, a World War II stamp prompted the opportunity for students to write a letter to a veteran soldier — for many of them, this was the first time they had ever written a letter. The ‘Remarkable Lives’ collection sparked discussions about individuals in British History and what makes a remarkable life. Other stamps provided the starting point for plotting history timelines.

With the Royal Mail postage stamps as a catalyst, children learnt via their tablets but also by engaging with the wider community and each other

The research has shown how a group of 8- and 9-year-olds who began with very little awareness of postage stamps became engaged in and excited by a hybrid learning experience. It enabled them to explore literacy, culture and history, and it engaged community members, carers, parents and grandparents in the learning journey. Stamp collecting became a strong interest for many of the children, in fact 27% of students continued to play the game at home by choice.

It’s a beautiful example of how old and new, digital and physical, can be brought together to create a rich, creative space in which children can learn and develop.