Using microloans to learn about the world

I realized the other day that it’s been awhile since I’ve written one of my This is Why I Teach posts, and that’s a real bummer.  Stopping every now and then to remember what it is that I love about my job is important because with the criticism launched at teachers from every turn, this gig can be a grind if you don’t find a rose to smell every now and then!

Thankfully for me, my kids have been throwing dozens of roses my way ever since my academic team decided to raise funds to start a Kiva club designed to make microloans to entrepreneurs in the developing nations of Africa and South America last spring.

Following the British tradition of Red Nose Day, we had our very first “Do Something Funny for Money Day” in March of 2009.  Our classes had to raise $250 in order to have free periods in all three of their core classes.  In the end, they raised just over $500.

Crazy, huh?

(If you’re interested in hosting your own Do Something Funny for Money Day, here’s the handout I shared with my parents and students:  Download Funny4Money)

Next, we spent a few weeks studying South America—a continent covered in our required curriculum—with an eye towards identifying the countries where people struggle the most with poverty.  We then worked through several mini-lessons on the advantages and disadvantages of several different types of Kiva microloans before making loans to 16 different businesses—many of whom are featured on this Kiva Team page.

(If you’re interested in seeing the mini-lessons that we used to make our decisions, here they are: Download Kiva_Gift_Card   Download Kiva_Group_Loans   Download South America Snapshot   Download Kiva_South_America_Stud   Download Kiva_Women_Loans)

Instructionally, this activity was primarily designed to give my students a real-world opportunity to learn about the world.  Sure, we could poke our way through the textbook to study the differences between life in Peru and the United States, but there’s something inherently authentic about studying Peru so that you can make the best decision about who to loan your money to.

But I also know that middle grades students are highly motivated by issues of justice and injustice.  Don’t believe me?  Let someone skip in line and see what kinds of mayhem breaks loose!

And poverty is one of those global issues that crosses borders.  Immigrants are putting pressure on countries all over the world—and sooner or later, we’re going to need to find some kind of collective, systematic solution to the challenges that poverty faces.

So my Kiva club paired an instructional objective with a high-interest topic connected to a global issue.  How’s that for a recipe for success?

The Kiva successes continue over at Salem Middle this year.  Knowing that I was going to need a group of students to manage our growing loan portfolio, I started an after school club on September 8th.  51 students turned out.

Hardcore, huh?  I’ve NEVER had 51 students turn out for any after school club.

And this bunch is hyper-motivated to raise more funds so that we can make even more loans to people in developing nations.  We’ve started selling “Poverty’s Real” bumper stickers that are popping up on binders and agendas and “Poverty’s Real” T-shirts that are popping up on bodies all over our building.

We’ve also written an entry for our blog designed to solicit online donations through PayPal (Want to help?  Here’s the link) and begun developing persuasive videos to use in our project’s efforts.

We’ve also recruited $100 sponsorship donations from several area businesses and charities in exchange for promises to advertise their sponsorship on our T-shirts and to write about their contributions on our blog.  One of my boys is so excited about working on local businesses that he’s crafted a speech that he’s planning on delivering anytime that we have a new business that we want to approach.

And on Friday, we hosted our first ever “Movie Night” at school, purchasing a public performance license to show School of Rock and asking people who came to make donations to our Kiva club in exchange for entrance and concessions.  Over 130 people turned out to help, and our club walked away with something close to $700 to add to our online Kiva club account.

Our next steps are simple:  When my students come back from their three week mini-vacation (we’re a year-round school and we “tracked out” on Friday), I’ll divide our club members into lending teams of 4-5 students and put each team in charge of a portfolio of money.  Their job will be to decide as a group who to loan their funds to.  Then, they’ll have to write about each of their lending decisions on our blog and monitor repayments all year long.

So whaddya’ think?

Is using microloans to engage students in a study of the world through the lens of poverty a good idea?  Is it something you could pull off in your school or community?

Would your students be motivated by knowing that they were making a real difference in the world—rather than just poking through worksheets?

If so, leave me a comment with your name, the grade level that you teach and your email address!  My lending teams may just want to send a $25 Kiva gift card your way to get your classes started.  No guarantees—each lending team is in charge of it’s own money—but it couldn’t hurt to ask!