Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Teacher Spotlight: Investing in Kiva borrowers encourages students to invest in learning

Meet Andrew Liss, a seventh grade social studies teacher at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in New Jersey. Since 2007, Andrew has been using Kiva to help teach his students about poverty and empower them to be change makers. Last year, he won a Hewlett Packard Academy grant, enabling his students to make movies about the Kiva borrowers they supported

To date, Andrew and his students have made 1,153 loans! Inspired by his story, we asked Andrew to share some of his favorite moments and insights from using Kiva in the Classroom.

Tell us about the most memorable loan-raising event you've had? 

Since we have conducted many loan events over the years, it's difficult to pick one. The parent/student/faculty dodgeball tournament was really fun. From a financial and educational standpoint, our most successful fundraiser included the presentation of a check from the Perth Amboy Presbyterian church with photographs and a front-page spread in the Middlesex-edition Newark Star Ledger.

What has been the most interesting part of the experience?

The most interesting part of my Kiva experience is finding out how many good and caring people are just waiting for an opportunity to get involved. Plus the repayment rate on Kiva always blows my mind!

Tell us about some of your student's reactions to Kiva. 

I was described as "ardent" by a former middle school student. Seriously, when was the last time a kid described you as ardent?

Kiva's impact in my classroom has been enormous. It provides a platform that allows students to improve their writing and media skills, learn basic structures of banking, examine their own attitudes about poverty and humanity, connect with the local Edison community and global Kiva community.

The moment I was introduced to Kiva on Frontline, I experienced an "Aha!" moment. No longer did I have to teach about Africa and the world through the lens of disease, civil war, genocide, etc. Now I could ride the wave of something positive, fun, and very personally rewarding.

In order to use Kiva as an educational tool I needed capital. My students were very excited to help raise capital. They helped to organize volleyball tournaments, dodgeball tournaments, raffles, car washes, bake sales, etc. With my guidance, we also solicited local businesses used by the students to provide food, cash, and prizes for our other fundraisers. In addition, a local and regional newspaper came to our school with cameras and interviewed students...very motivating and exciting! Finally, a local church and mosque sent representatives to our school along with a generous check from their congregants.

All of these real world, meaningful experiences had a dramatic impact on student motivation and learning. By the time we got around to learning about microfinance, lending the money, and writing critically about the experience, the students were "all in." They took matters into their own hands and created donation envelopes for their parents to take to work, manned tables on parent-teacher conference night to work the crowds, etc.

The efforts of my students inspired me to expand the Kiva program to the rest of the seventh grade and share the experience with four other schools. I even contacted a Kiva fellow through the University of Wisconsin (my alma mater) lending team, who came to my classroom for a day and played a simulation game...huge success! When my classes participated in an Internet grant contest from this year, they were blown away by the support and comments we received from the Kiva community. Real people from all over the world were posting positive messages for my students to read, truly a global experience.

The writing and media components of the unit were a natural progression. When students can choose a client based on a story, picture, data, etc. it becomes a personalized learning experience. By coupling that personalized learning experience with a critical look at the microfinance industry, I find that most students are very open to learning and eager to put forth their best effort. Teaching difficult skills, such as writing, is much easier when students have a stake in what they are writing about. Capping the learning experience with a media presentation posted on a class website not only demonstrates 21st century learning skills, but also provides students with an authentic audience for their work.

Interested in learning more about teaching and learning with Kiva? Go here! Are you teacher currently using Kiva in the Classroom? Tell us about your experience at