Our KIVA project

I have an amazing group of students this year.  They are compassionate, motivated and really want to make a difference in their world RIGHT NOW.   I am constantly looking for ways to develop this potential and to meet them where they are.  Last month I attended the Surrey School District’s Digital Learner Dinner Series with the inspiring and engaging Bill Ferriter (@plugusin on Twitter) as the main speaker.

He spoke of many profound ideas that have influenced me on my journey as an educator.  (You should really read his blog “The Tempered Radical” to see all of the ways he is changing the face of education.)  There were many important ideas that resonated with me that evening, but the one that I took to school the next day and started applying was the idea of KIVA.  Bill shared the work of his Kiva Club and I instantly knew that this was a project for my students.  I was hooked.  I couldn’t wait to get to school the next day and share KIVA with my class.  I have to say, they were hooked right away too.

(on a side note…One of my more socially challenged and gifted students immediately championed the idea.  It was so powerful to see this student take on a positive leadership role in the class and to see the reaction of the other students.  This project has not only helped fight poverty in developing countries, it has changed the way my students view their peer and it has changed how this student relates to others.  The “win at all cost” competitive streak had been harnessed into “lets do this together” and wow, has it changed the working climate in our groups.)

As part of our year long challenge-based learning essential question: “How can we make someone else’s life better?” we decided that making micro loans to groups and individuals in developing countries through KIVA would be the perfect way for our class to give back to the world.

First we developed our background knowledge and vocabulary in order to be able to read and understand the Kiva web page.  (Scaffolding stage)

Our first essential understanding was the difference between “needs” and “wants”.  We made lists, sorted, categorized and played with the language.  We discussed what community services were and made comparisons between what Surrey’s local government provides (and our provincial and federal governments) through the taxes that our parents pay and what community services are available in developing nations.

(And we made a slight detour to research the Annacis Island Waste Water Treatment Facility aka “Poop factory” to the kids, because it was really interesting to us and the class wanted to know more 🙂 We had a lot of fun with that for a few days!)

We built vocabulary through games like “vocab family feud” and “password”, we worked on jigsaw puzzles in teams to explore maps of Canada and the world. We struggled in groups of twos and threes to read and understand the descriptions of the loans.  There were moments of frustration and times when the teams didn’t work well together, but we struggled through because it was important to us and all the while learned valuable lessons in perseverance, teamwork, patience and trust.  We scrutinized maps to locate countries we had never heard of let alone could pronounce.    The students were so interested and motivated that they kept at it and are now almost experts at navigating the Kiva site.



The same themes kept coming up again and again with loans that were interesting to the students.  These ideas came from the students which we then consolidated into our lending rubric.  We developed this rubric to be able to evaluate loans in small groups.  If the loan got 5/5 points, the loan was recommended to the class to evaluate as a group and then vote in favor or against making a microloan to that entrepreneur.  I told the students that I will not decide for them, that this is their project and that they are the ones to choose who to lend to.


The priorities the students developed are:

1. Helps with basic needs, not wants (eg. loan is to a small business and  is used to support self and family, not a loan to buy things like furniture or wants)

2. Helps people (women or men) with children who are 18 and under (school age or younger)

3.  Not selling alcohol, cigarettes or dangerous things like fireworks or weapons

4.  Helps people in conflict (war, civil unrest, terrorism) zones

5. Helps with poverty and homelessness (we use the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index www.undp.org and HDR.undp.org/data/explorer (use the map icon at the top to see the map) to see where the country is ranked on the HDI scale)

lending rubric screen shot

You can download our lending rubric here


We took Bill up on his very generous offer to Skype with our class.  It was a  really big deal for my students (and me too!)  We had been working very hard at our KIVA project (www.kiva.org) for the past few weeks and had made our first and second loans.  Our first loan was to “Hawa” in Sierra Leone and our second was to “Charlotte” in Rwanda.  They are both reselling grains and food staples to earn money for their children to attend school.  The students now had the hang of how to lend and were ready to move on to more challenges.

And today,our day to Skype with Bill Ferriter’s Salem Middle School Kiva Club in North Carolina had finally arrived!  I have to give a shout out to my friend, mentor and grade 3/4 partner in crime Robyn Thiessen and to my fantastic and brilliant preservice teacher Sarah Dalzell for their help with testing the set up for the Skype session.  Thanks ladies!  Not only did they help make sure that the set up worked and all the students could be seen on the screen, but they helped keep me grounded 🙂 (As Sarah would say, “my amygdala was freaking out!”  yup, that was me today!)

We spent the first part of the morning developing questions to ask Bill’s Kiva Club:






Boy, did they have a lot of questions!  We then narrowed down our list and chose speakers to ask each question.

Here is page one of our final list of questions:


The clock ticked slowly and the class was so patient waiting for the call to come through.  They jumped and were all smiles when the computer started chirping the Skype ring tone!  The Skype was brilliant because Bill was his usual chill, fun self and immediately put us at ease.  His students Ashley, Emma and Anthony were incredibly well spoken with their prepared presentation and answered our questions clearly and in language that grade three’s could understand.  Here are a few photos of the session:

Listening to the presentation:IMG_0956

Vincent asking his question:

Gurjot listening to the answer to his question:IMG_0977

Saying goodbye and doing our new dance “the wave” (gee, thanks Anthony!) 🙂


Through this Skype session we gained key understandings of why loan duration is important, lending to groups vs. individuals, understanding the star ratings of field partners and got some great ideas for fundraising (which is the next area of focus for us).  This Skype session provided us with the next piece of information that we needed to keep the project moving forward and to deepen our learning.

As a class, we were really taken by their idea to loan to as many different countries as possible.  We had a great discussion as a group and decided that we are going to work our way through countries with recent/current conflict or civil unrest first and then try to fund as many  loans to different countries that rank lowest on the UN HDI.

After we were finished Skyping, we went outside for a break (we missed lunch and playtime to Skype) and when we got back to class we noticed that Mr. Ferriter had left us a message on Skype.  His group had met after the Skype and had decided to send us a gift card to help us continue with Kiva.  When the e-mail came through later, we were shocked and thrilled with the generosity of his Kiva club and how we had made such a strong connection in such a short time.  What a transformative learning experience!  It’s amazing how a technology like Skype can bring two very different groups of students from opposite sides of the continent together for a common project.   We are so excited to continue lending through Kiva and are so grateful for the support and encouragement of Bill and his Kiva club.

We are planning to make a short video to show our appreciation to Bill and his Kiva Club, and have already accepted his invitation to join their Kiva group “Team Kids Care”.  We look forward to learning and sharing together in the future and staying connected through Twitter and the occasional Skype!

And in the lingo of Bill and his club…Thanks all y’all, that was a heapin’ cheeseload of fun!