"Bartlett librarian pulls out stamp collection to help students learn world geography."

Local Librarian Teaching with Postage Stamps

by:  Karla Norman, Librarian, Rivercrest Elementary, Bartlett, TN

Memphis Stamp Collectors Society

Memphis, Tennessee

On Saturday, September 23, 2017 MSCS member, Karla Norman gave a seminar to local area librarians at Rivercrest Elementary School in Bartlett, TN, on using stamp collecting as a teaching aid. Attendees learned about many collecting skills including soaking, mounting and researching stamps, as well as using them as a part of their curriculum. Karla led teachers through the steps of making bookmarks by mounting and laminating stamps on stock cards. The bookmarks were made using international stamps and then would be used as part of an activity using a world atlas. This ties the bookmarks directly to the curriculum.

December 1, 2015 — Fifth grade students Derrick, 10, and Elizabeth, 10, receive help from librarian Karla Norman, after she rolled collections of used international stamps to teach students a lesson on continents at Rivercrest Elementary School in Bartlett Tuesday afternoon. Members of Norman’s stamp club, Memphis Stamp Collectors Society, donated those stamps when they discovered she wanted to use them to educate her students. “They are really thrilled that I’m using stamps to put them in front of kids in an interesting way,” Norman states. 

Norman has been collecting stamps for over a year and has around 150 stamps in her personal collection. “I am a topical collector which means I collect by topic, not by a country,” Norman adds. “I’m collecting on a topic and the topics that I am going to be collecting are stamps that portray writers, poets, journalists, really anything to do with printing and children’s literature.”

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By Jane Roberts of The Commercial Appeal

December 1, 2015 — Fifth grade student Hayes, 10, studies a stamp under the direction of librarian Karla Norman at Rivercrest Elementary School in Bartlett, TN, Tuesday afternoon. 

Fifth-graders at Rivercrest Elementary in Bartlett, TN, had no idea postage stamps — small, sticky pieces of lore — could tell them so much about the world until librarian Karla Norman invited them into hers.

She led them in a geography lesson Tuesday with international stamps — most donated by her new colleagues at the Memphis Stamp Collectors Society — as the teaching tool.

"They are really thrilled I am using stamps to put ideas before kids in an interesting way," Norman told the students, who had loads of questions about collecting and, in some cases, about postage stamps themselves.

With a magnifying glasses, tweezers and a map of the continents, each pair of students received eight international stamps in an official stamp collector's glassine envelope (necessary to protect the stamps from moisture, they learned) and a handout to help identify the nation that issued the stamp. (Great Britain is only nation that doesn't print its name on stamps; it uses the silhouette of its sovereign, a lesson in itself.)

"Now, do all countries speak English?" Norman asked....

MSCS is elated to announce we have approved a 2018, $150.00 grant application from Ms. Tammy Phillips from Oak Elementary School in Bartlett, TN,  where she is a 5th Grade/Library teacher in Social Studies. Grant funds will be used to purchase supplies to teach World Geography.
The project will begin with the teacher introducing students to the hobby of Stamp Collecting. Tammy will show students samples of used postage stamps, tools and materials used with this hobby, and a stamp collector’s album. Lesson 2 will have the students sorting through stamps to find 3-4 that have a central theme. Lessons 3-4 will have the students choosing one stamp for their bookmark and completing a state report using an atlas, dictionary, and an online encyclopedia. The final lesson will have students presenting their bookmark and state of choice. Her course will reach 100 children.

As an elementary school librarian, this was the first year that I’ve used postage stamps, both U.S. and international, as an instructional device as part of my library instruction.  The interest of students was definitely piqued.  The stamps were more interesting to the students to use as research prompts rather than just questions I devised.  These are good tools to use with the students to help them strengthen their skills using basic research works like almanacs, atlases, and encyclopedia.  Students also noted the use of words like “anniversary,” “centennial,” “bicentennial,” and “sesquicentennial”  appearing with some frequency on postage stamps, so we made good use of the dictionary.

Based on the response of the students as well as some of their questions, there are a number of topics I’d like to address in more detail with students. 

These are:  --Letter writing:  Students need to know how to write a letter, the parts of a letter as well as how to address an envelope.  This shouldn’t be a hard topic because there are any number of children’s books that feature “letters/correspondence” as a feature of the story.  

-Note taking:  My students need more practice in what note taking is and how one makes notes.  Useful for the more in-depth stamp research activities we do and very helpful for the fifth graders going off to sixth grade (middle school) next year.

--More sorting & classification activities:  A kindergarten teacher has given me several ideas that coordinate topics from their curriculum that would fit well using postage stamps.  Students need practice identifying things that are alike and different and be able to explain their thinking.  Learning to manipulate stamp tongs would be great for little fingers mastering fine motor skills and hand/eye coordination. 
--Combining art & postage stamps:  We have a marvelous art teacher at our school and she wants to collaborate on lessons about how to design a stamp.

There’s been a great deal of preparatory work to get the stamp lessons ready to teach, but the pay off in learning has been tremendous.  Since I am a new stamp collector, I am still learning “stamps” and in turn, making useful connections in my library instruction.  My principal has been very pleased with what she has seen the students do using postage stamps.  We may have a Redbird Stamp Club in the future!

Review of the First Year of Using Postage Stamps as a Teaching Tool

The seminar was used by teachers from Memphis and Lakeland to satisfy continuing education requirements. MSCS members attending included Andy Burkman, David Kiehn and Ron Williams.  David gave a presentation on stamp collecting accessories.

Reprinted with permission from:

Jane Roberts

Jane Roberts is a member of the suburban news team at The Commercial Appeal. She focuses on education and interesting people.

photos:  (Yalonda M. James/The Commercial Appeal)

@JaneRoberts8 jane.roberts@commercialappeal.com 901-529-2512