Student Engagement

Microfinance In Action: Students Impact Global Economies

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“Embracing Global Change One Loan at a Time”

Microfinance in Action Revisited

It’s been an exciting, tumultuous, but ultimately productive three years for the educators and students at Southwind High School in Tennesee.  Those involved with the Microfinance in Action (MFiA) project have seen a lot of success despite some setbacks along the way.  But the outpouring of support from the community and other educators has helped keep the flow uninterrupted.

What is Microfinance in Action (MFiA)?

KIVA Club performing community service
KIVA Club performing community service, Project Photo.

When MFiA was originally proposed, it was proposed as a three-year project that would take students through the process of learning about microfinancing, and how important it can be to stimulate the economy.  Especially in resource and job depressed areas in this country and abroad.  They were also tasked with learning about and distributing KIVA loans to small businesses.  It also proposed that students travel to low-income areas, or areas affected by natural disasters to get a real look at what poverty looks like and hopefully become passionate about ending it. In our blog we explored what an integrated curriculum exploring globalization and economics looked like and heard about the real world skills and field experiences (Microfinance in Action, August 2013). Results were inspiring.

Exploring Local Economics through Field Experiences

One of their main goals was to leave the textbook behind and create an environment of practical learning, where students would interact with their community, and communities beyond theirs to get a greater perspective on what economics and Microfinance in particular means in their day-to-day lives.  So they started a journey to some of the most economically devastated states in the nation.  Beginning with their own.

MFiA Textbook
MFiA Textbook, Biba Kavass

Making a Global Impact

They began this journey along the banks of the Mississippi in Memphis and worked their way down through the Delta to New Orleans.  From there they moved to the home of the Lakota Tribes and finally to the sugar cane fields of the Dominican Republic.  No one could accuse them of being lazy travelers, that’s for sure.  And while I could spoil you with the details of their trip, that would ultimately take away from what was the end game goal for this project; creating a book entitled Microfinance in Action: A Guidebook for Teenagers.  They just recently returned from Guatemala where they finished filming the documentary portion of their proposal, which should be edited later this summer.  That documentary, along with the book they plan on publishing, will be a great resource for educators who might want to try this model at their own schools.

Kiva Club Travel
Travel 2013, Project Photo.

Other goals they had proposed were setting up a KIVA Club loan program where students could work with accredited loan companies to set up microfinance loans for those in need at home and abroad. This ended up being far more successful than they had anticipated but came with an unfortunate cost.  Biba Kavass, the innovative educator behind this proposal, was diagnosed with a brain tumor.  And while she continues to work on the project, she will soon have to take a step back and let others lead in her place.  But the community rallied.  Roughly to the tune of $150,000 and climbing.  Because of this community support they’ve already made 148 loans out to people in over 50 countries.  The next step is setting up a larger and more focused KIVA Club loan program, working with SME Uganda to make slightly larger loans available to people in need.

Follow MFiA Online

The project website, microfininaction.weebly.com, is also doing well, having received it’s 1000th unique visitor recently.  This website is where Biba, and those who will continue in her stead, chronicle their work as well as get in contact with prospective partners.
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Despite the unforeseeable setbacks they faced it would seem like MFiA has been a great success, in every avenue they proposed.  The students, educators, and community all benefited from this project, which is something we value here at McCarthy Dressman.  We hope to see many more innovative projects, like this one, funded in the future.

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Further Reading

CFCO: Service Learning Builds 21st Century Skills, Engages Teens

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Connecting lessons learned in classrooms to real world applications is one of the great challenges in teaching.  Teachers and administrators at Harrison High School in Evansville, Indiana have come up with an innovative new classroom model to address that challenge.

What is the CFCO?

They have created the Center for Family and Community Outreach (CFCO), which aims to use student skills (built around academic content) to create documents, multimedia, events, presentations, and more for over twenty non-profit organizations in their community.

Educators are able to connect students with members of the non-profit community, creating a symbiotic relationship wherein the student gains valuable real-life skills and the non-profits get a free service.  Not only is it easier to engage teenage minds directly if they feel a sense of involvement and contribution towards the betterment of their community, it also helps teens build invaluable skills for the transition into their adult lives.

How can service learning support non-profits and drive engagement for learners?

There are many service learning projects around the country, but few, if any, that drives content in the classroom around producing products for non-profits. The CFCO model has elements of numerous trends in education, such as:

Students enrolled in the program also volunteered at the Evansville Rescue Mission to fill Thanksgiving Food Baskets.
Students enrolled in the program also volunteered at the Evansville Rescue Mission to fill Thanksgiving Food Baskets.
  • project-based learning
  • student-centered learning
  • and new technology,

but is truly innovative for the level of engagement it produces for students.

Poster to recruit CFCO students.
Students are engaged, build real world skills and earn credit.

This program has seven distinct goals.

  1. Research the non-profit groups and social issues in students’ communities.
  2. Hold ‘Round Table’ discussions with local experts on special topic issues using the latest online literature and information.
  3. Tour the non-profit facilities and volunteer with local organizations and events.
  4. Collaborate with leaders on project ideas and write formal proposals
  5. Use project based learning and technology to design and create materials
  6. “Pitch” their ideas through benchmarks and final presentations
  7. Openly communicate with the community through blogging and video reflections.

Importance of Community Support

Students are immersed in the tangible application of skills from the classroom, and since students know what they are doing will have a real impact on their community, it is readily apparent how seriously they take it. The program has relied on a tremendous amount of community support and is currently in it’s third year of operation.  Fortunately they continue to draw in new non-profit partners based on the satisfaction of their initial partners and publicity the projects have generated for the mission of non-profits in Evansville.

What is the impact?

So where are the teachers and students of Harrison High School now, a year into the program?  Reports have come back with very positive results, including:

  • Students have a sense of ownership and engagement in their work as well as their community.
  • Non-profit data shows that the community’s organizations have much higher perception of the schools and teens’ abilities after working with the CFCO.

Moving forward they plan on moving the program to a half day model, to increase student exposure, as well as continuing to nurture community involvement and contribution.

Comments from participants.
Comments from participants.

With such an easily adaptable model, educators around the country should be looking to Evansville, and Harrison High School in particular.  How they proceed could very well dictate how dozens of similar programs pop up in the future.  Community involvement and concrete links between lessons learned in the classroom and real world applications are key in both advancing education as well as building a student body that is invested in the present and future of their community.  While the saying “It takes a village to raise a child,” has been politicized as of late, I think we can all agree that fostering a child’s investment and involvement in his or her village can only lead to positive results.

For more information

Microfinance in Action

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How can high school students learn about globalization in an economics course?

In an increasingly globalized world the standard skill set of a global citizen is rapidly shifting.  While it would be impossible to give the students every bit of skill and knowledge they will need to be competitive in the global marketplace, one program is setting about to make a small change in how high school students approach economics that looks to be paying big dividends.

Students visit Scott Kessler at the Cora Texas Manufacturing Company in White Castle, Louisiana to learn first hand about sugar production.
Southwind High School students visit Scott Kessler at the Cora Texas Manufacturing Company in White Castle, Louisiana to learn first hand about sugar production.

The teachers at Southwind High School in Memphis, TN have implemented a completely unique approach to teaching economics students about globalization and microfinance.

The project, currently in progress, involves the students in project-based learning to address multiple student skills including:

  • critical thinking
  • decision-making
  • global citizenship, and
  • responsibility

So how has this school approached this project and how successful have they been in its implementation? This ambitious endeavor is projected to take three years to implement.

Incorporating Problem Based Learning with Global Economic Issues

For economics students at Southwind High, things have changed.  No longer the victims of textbooks and lectures, these students participate in an integrated curriculum on globalization.

What does an integrated curriculum exploring globalization and economics look like?

First, students work in groups to develop awareness of important concepts for the project. Research topics include:

The Eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) ...
The Eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of UN. Target date: 2015 http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Next, using ‘future problem solving’ skills, the groups develop a solution to address those issues in their selected country.

Finally, students will present their findings to the Ambassador of their selected country. Presentations will also be shared in a guidebook entitled Microfinance in Action: A Guide for Teenagers that will be used to supplement other high school economics courses.

How are real world skills and field experiences incorporated into the project?

In addition to the web research conducted, student groups communicate via Skype to high schools in developing nations. Using social media, students promote awareness of global economic issues, publishing research to a global awareness blog and producing video documentary segments.  The blog also invites other schools to get involved or start their own program.

Students also have the opportunity to travel to various locations in the United States and Central America to document individual stories of those most affected by economic issues. During that time students will produce presentations on research they have conducted on economic, political, and cultural issues on selected developing nations.

What is the impact of this project so far?

During year one, students created the project website where you can watch the project unfold. (http://shskivamemphis.weebly.com). Groups have completed their Global research and the first two chapters of the Guidebook have been drafted and are being revised.  The students and participating faculty traveled both to the Global Youth Institute as well as to Mississippi to film their documentary projects.  So far, the program served 150 students at Southwind as well as teachers from ten different schools.

How can this project inspire other educators?

Phyllis Cassidy, Executive Director, Good Work Network, New Orleans, Louisiana shares with students how to the organization she founded helps minority and women owned businesses start, grow, and succeed.
Phyllis Cassidy, Executive Director, Good Work Network, New Orleans, Louisiana shares with students how to the organization she founded helps minority and women owned businesses start, grow, and succeed.

By taking such a unique and global perspective on economics, teachers Biba S. Kavass and Landon Hawthorne are insuring their students will have a much easier time navigating the global market place due to the early exposure to real economic disparity issues and their subsequent research and involvement.

Project-based learning and integrated curriculum are powerful opportunities to engage students and build real world skills. Here are some resources to explore for developing similar projects for your students.

Inquiry, Relevance, and Citizen Science: A Roadmap to Successful Science Projects

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When students tackle science hands on, they can save the world!

If inquiry is meaningful, real world practices improve student understanding.

Students research water quality with samples they collected.
Students research water quality with samples they collected. Photo from Linda Weber, Project Awardee.

Memorizing the periodic table, a formula to determine the circumference of an atom, or the genus of a frog can be important, but let’s face it… you’re looking at an uphill battle when you are staring down the barrel of sixty drooping eyelids trying to explain why it is important that the student retain this information.

There is ample evidence that students retain very little from lectures in science classes.  There is a reason for this – when you are given lists of equations, tables, or dozens of names to memorize it can be difficult to see where this makes an impact in the real world.

So how do we change this?

Simple.  We help students impact the real world using practical inquiry into local and global science.  Or better yet, take the classroom to the science! Whether students are contributing data to global honey bee research or graphing the skies, citizen science allows students to participate in global scientific inquiry. As explained here, integrating inquiry based science meaningfully in the real world is a tall order for any educator. In this post, we will share with you an example project and supporting resources to inspire this integration in your classroom.

How do educators integrate scientific inquiry and real world relevance?

The Water Quality Project:  A Map to Understanding was reported by Linda Weber of Natick High School in Natick, Massachusetts. The goal of this project at is to let students “do” science like real scientists by observing, questioning, and ultimately coming up with a solution to a problem that can be shared with the larger community.  In the short term, participation allows students to see and experience the process of scientific inquiry first hand, rather than having someone dictate it to them.  In the long term, students who participated would see how the decisions they were making now would impact their lives in the future. According to the National Science Teachers Association’s position statement:

“Scientific inquiry reflects how scientists come to understand the natural world, and it is at the heart of how students learn. From a very early age, children interact with their environment, ask questions, and seek ways to answer those questions. Understanding science content is significantly enhanced when ideas are anchored to inquiry experiences. “

What strategies can be used to increase the real world relevance of the inquiry process?

PBS' Poisoned Waters is available along with an accompanying teacher's guide at pbs.org.
PBS’ Poisoned Waters is available along with an accompanying teacher’s guide at pbs.org.

One of the long term goals of this project included helping students see how the decisions they make today influences their future.  This ambitious goal required teachers to frontload curriculum earlier in the year and to engage students with relevant narratives (like PBS’ Poisoned Waters) and a guest speaker assembly including local and regional water quality scientists.

All of this preparation helped students prepare for real world and hands on activities for the project. These included:

  • Helping out their community
    For the annual Charles River Watershed Association’s clean-up day, students and teachers removed a variety of trash, from traditional cigarette butts and paper to more unusual things like television sets. For the nearly 50 students that participated (on a school vacation weekend, mind you) the experience was insightful. Class discussions about and concern for their environment lingered into the following weeks in class. These shared experiences became the “reason” to investigate water quality in the community rather than the “just the wrap up activity” of the project.
  • Environmental Science and Robotics classes at collection sites test and launch robots, then collect water samples to be analyzed at the site and in class. Photo from Linda Weber, Project Awardee.
    Environmental Science and Robotics classes at collection sites test and launch robots, then collect water samples to be analyzed at the site and in class. Photo from Linda Weber, Project Awardee.

    Collecting local data
    After the students had returned to the area to collect water samples. They used collection robots they built during their classroom time to reach water samples they couldn’t normally get to.  Using technologies like wikis, blogs, and Google Maps they were able to share their results instantly with their classmates.

  • Contributing to global datasets
    The project also included research for the testing parameters of The World Monitoring Day Organization or World Water Monitoring DayThe Water Quality Project isn’t the only program in the United States doing this.  Many other schools (in over 24 countries) are participating in The World Water Monitoring Challenge.  It charges its members to educate and engage students and citizens in the protection of international water resources.
  • Presenting the results
    When all the research was said and done there was a “massive poster presentation” where every student was required to present his or her findings and share ideas for how to improve the water conditions in their community.

Why does it work?

When learning is meaningful, the impact is tangible.

When students have the opportunity to showcase their skills to a larger audience than their teachers or peers it helps to internalize the lessons they learn in the classroom.  This benefit accumulates when the students can see themselves using inquiry-based science to make a real difference in their communities.

Learn more about the resources used in Water Quality: A Roadmap to Understanding
Learn more about Citizen Science

Learn more about integrating Citizen Science in education

Flickr Set: New York City Urban Debate League

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Don’t miss this engaging Flickr slideshow from NYC Urban Debate League

http://www.flickr.com/photos/nycudl/sets/72157631812818648/

New York City Urban Debate League

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When debate and students come together, great debates happen.

"All students can be great debaters." -Erik Fogel
“All students can be great debaters.” -Erik Fogel

This month’s blog presents the New York City Urban Debate League (NYCUDL) and how it has flourished despite few resources. It’s been rated among the nation’s top after-school programs by many leading education organizations including the National Endowment for the Arts, National Council for the Humanities, and First Lady Michelle Obama calling it, “one of the top arts and humanities based programs in the country.”

First Lady Michelle Obama Honors 2012 NAHYP Awardees at White House http://www.pcah.gov/news/first-lady-michelle-obama-honors-2012-nahyp-awardees-white-house
Read more about First Lady Michelle Obama honoring 2012 NAHYP Awardees at White House

According to Erik Fogel who is the driving force behind the NYCUDL,

The Great Debaters program is so successful and so simple and can be replicated to any school.  All students can be Great Debaters!

Why debate?

With our nation slipping behind many other countries in the subjects of math and science (2013, CNN) one may find it hard to justify a course of study with no immediate application to tests on basic skills.  Unless you’re a lawyer there are very few jobs that will pay you to research and argue a subject.

So again, why debate?

Debate engages students on a deeper and more meaningful level than most classes because it forces students to engage in more serious subject matter and view important issues from many angles.

Simply put, it teaches a range of skills that are applicable in almost any situation.

What type of knowledge, skills and abilities does debate support?

  • Rigorous and Critical ThinkingDebate participation promotes problem-solving skills, viewing issues from multiple angles and teaches students to synthesize a large amount of information.
  • Master Multiple Subject AreasDebate students learn about current events, politics, philosophy, critical studies, economics, environmental studies, international studies, geography, culture, race, and public policy.
  • Listening and Note-taking SkillsDebate requires that you become an excellent listener and good note taker.  This helps students learn the material more profoundly and helps them to get better grades.
  • Cognitive and Academic Vocabulary SkillsDebate students often read and write at a level 25% higher than their peers.
  • Mental and Emotional MaturityDebate forces students to engage each other in a mature and professional manner.  It teaches students how others think, how to stand in the face of adversity, and ultimately teaches them self-confidence.
  • Academic and Professional AchievementThe average debate student is in the top 10% of their class.  Ninety-five percent go on to college and many debaters go on to have very productive professional lives and tend to be more politically active and engaged.

A great many leaders and important thinkers participated in debate. A few famous examples include Justice Sonya Sotomayor, and President’s Kennedy and Johnson.

…I joined the debating team…. That’s where I developed my speaking skills and learned to think on my feet…. You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your brains won’t get you anywhere.”

-Lee Iacocca, former CEO of Chrysler

So what does a model debate program look like?

Debate competitions traditionally have been reserved for only the schools that could afford the very steep price tag.  This means that the vast majority of inner city public schools lack the debate opportunities of their more well off counterparts. But if you want to see the exception that proves the rule, one need look no further than the New York City Urban Debate League (formerly the Bronx Urban Debate League) to find an ideal model.  From humble beginnings in a single school in the Bronx, they have since expanded to over thirty-five schools, covering the entire New York City area with plans to expand further. Mr. Fogel said, “Thanks to the McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation we were able to expand our debate team to the entire Bronx and New York City by offering free debate tournaments to all students.”

Essential components of the program include outreach to schools and a wonderful website – but that’s not all. Once a school is identified, “we meet with schools and customize a plan to start a program (recruitment of debaters, curriculum, and teacher training). We match paid and/or volunteer high school, college, and alumni debaters to each school to serve as assistant coaches.”

The League offers specialized programs including policy debate, public forum debate, parliamentary debate, a girls debate league and more. Along with community and school efforts, NYCUDL also holds a free debate camp each summer. Alumni of the program receive college and career advising.

So who is the New York City Urban Debate League (NYCUDL)?

The NYCUDL, led by Erik Fogel consists of a collection of teachers, administrators and other volunteers. They meet with schools on an individual basis to plan customized programs, build a debate curriculum which includes hundreds of files of arguments and evidence, recruit student debaters, train teachers and other volunteers, and organize leagues. They provide the schools with free debate resources (books, handouts, lessons, and videos). Additionally, with all that they also hold two free tournaments every month, more often than not with free transportation to and from schools.  Fogel explains, “These tournaments are foremost educational and motivational and so we distribute numerous awards. We provide support for member schools to participate in city, regional and national tournaments for free.”

So what has the impact been thus far?

One need only look at the NYCUDL’s yearly report to know that any resources spent on them is well worth the cost.

  • Originally planned to expand into three to five schools, NYCUDL expanded to over twenty.
  • Instead of offering a few free tournaments, they offer whole free leagues including an after school league, a weekend league, and a young woman’s league.
  • NYCUDL teams have won the City Championship, State Championship, and 3rd, 4th and 5th places at the National Championships (a first for that Title I school).

Most importantly, students in the NYCUDL have 100% college acceptance among their graduating seniors. In fact, NYCUDL alumni often win multiple scholarships. If those facts don’t inspire a debate about the academic enrichment efforts you are implementing in your school, perhaps they should.

Considering starting a debate enrichment program?

To learn more about NYCUDL and the strategies highlighted in this project, visit these resources.

BOOM! A Writing Program With a Mentoring Focus

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When student publishing and mentoring come together, student engagement and writing skills explode!

A screenshot of the BOOM! Magazine website.
Students at Manuel High are supported by mentors to develop both literacy and life skills at BOOM! Magazine http://www.mhsboom.com/

When students write for an authentic audience, research has shown that they take more pride in their work. Throughout a student’s school life, they are writing stories, book reports, research reports, “What I Did Last Summer,” etc., but it is often for a very small audience, perhaps just the teacher.

This is not to say that this writing is not important in the learning process. However, it becomes a different kind of writing project when you are actually writing for a real audience and writing for a real purpose.

According to Anne Rodier, “Over time we have discovered that our students are just like us: They have to grow into being writers. They have to believe that what they have to say is important enough to bother writing. They have to experience writing for real audiences before they will know that writing can bring power.”  In this blog you will learn about an innovative program called BOOM!

How are mentoring and literacy combined in an after-school program?

BOOM! is an after-school program and literary magazine produced by students at Manual High School in Denver, Colorado for their fellow students and their community. The mission of BOOM! is to develop the writing skills of students in a positive, mentoring environment that equips them for success in high school and beyond.

After School Program Model
Two afternoons a week BOOM! writers work with community volunteers (many whom are professional writers) who tutor them as they write articles and fictional stories. The students sign contracts with their volunteers to ensure their attendance and timely completion of their articles. They also work with professional graphic designers to design the 30-page publication. A few of the article categories include: The Pulse of ManualWhat’s Good in the HoodWe Got Game, and Creative Fiction.

BOOM!’s program and its one-on-one mentoring help kids of all abilities, from extremely talented to barely literate writers.

The program focuses on three key areas which support students in:

  • expressing themselves
  • improving writing abilities
  • gaining confidence and life skills

The program was funded by McCarthey Dressman Educational Foundation and is a collaboration between the school and the Volunteers of America Community-Connect office at Manual with a goal of having students write about their school and their community which culminates in a professional publication.

What is the impact of an after-school literary magazine project?

An infographic highlighting the impact of BOOM!
A snapshot of the challenges faced and impact leveraged with BOOM! Magazine

Over the past three years that BOOM! has been operating, the program has mentored 30 students, produced 11 publications and reached more than 4,000 student and community readers.

BOOM! is not only improving literacy, it is making a difference in students’ lives. Mentors serve as role models and often remain close to the students after they have exited the program. Teachers see the program as another tool in assisting students in becoming writers and successful in school. And, as students see their name in print, it makes them proud and allows them to see themselves as authors and to find writing to be an outlet for their creativity. It is no small surprise that all graduating BOOM! students have been accepted into universities. This makes combining literacy and mentoring an excellent model of a collaborative program between a school and a community organization.

What do the participants say?

Some quotes from BOOM! students, teachers and principal at Manual High School:

  • We don’t have people to help us in the classroom. There’s one teacher and 26 students. But here it’s more like 7 mentors and 10 kids. They help you make sure you are writing the correct way and going outside what you normally can do. I find now I can go more in depth with analysis in class when we read books. My grades have gone up in my English classes and I feel more confident. It’s helped me create better personal essays for college scholarships. Even though you might think BOOM! is about writing, it’s about being able to express yourself and have someone help you along the way to express yourself. – Ronnie
  • I joined BOOM! to get involved and meet new people. I see now that I’m in college how it helped me become a better writer. From all the interviews I did, I feel confident talking with new people, meeting new people and having very professional conversations with them. I feel comfortable writing longer college essays. – Dani
  • BOOM! was the major factor that got Dani to college. She went from a passive student to taking an active interest in her future.  – Manual teacher
  • BOOM! offers students the individual attention and instruction they need. – Manual teacher
  • We have to find a way to get this program to reach more students!  – Manual principal

BOOM! helps students express themselves, improve their writing skills, and take part in a positive community.

To learn more about BOOM! and the strategies highlighted in this project, visit these resources.