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New U-M Center Will Help Reshape K-12 Teaching for different kinds of Learners

Students in the Master of Arts with Elementary Teacher Certification program work with elementary school students at Ann Arbor Open School in July 2021. Image credit: Leisa Thompson

With a $14.7 million gift, University of Michigan alumna Eileen Lappin Weiser will establish a new center at the U-M School of Education to make learning accessible to all youth.

Her gift, representing the largest commitment in the School of Education’s 100-year history, will help reshape teaching and learning to meet the needs of all different kinds of learners and prepare them for the jobs of the future.

The Eileen Lappin Weiser Learning Sciences Center will strengthen the connections between research and practice by engaging numerous partners to study the many places and ways that learning happens. This will involve the design and testing of curricula for diverse learners, collaboration with teachers and administrators to promote evidence-based practices, and efforts to scale successful education solutions to be available to all learners.

Eileen Lappin Weiser

Eileen Lappin Weiser

“Today’s schools struggle to adapt to their learners’ needs. Far too many of our children and youth are falling through the cracks. Every child deserves the chance to learn and prepare well for life,” Lappin Weiser said. “We already know effective educational practices that can change a child’s education, and we find more every year. It’s time to help schools, teachers and students do things differently.”

The center seeks to disrupt schooling norms in favor of methods that develop lifelong learners adept at critical thinking. Although scholars have discovered much about how people learn over the last 100 years, the findings have rarely translated into formal schooling at scale.

Studies have found that classroom learning experiences often feel meaningless to many students because the lessons are disconnected from their realities. Many of these students lack a sense of agency and choice in their learning. Furthermore, research has shown even students who are engaged by traditional schooling may not receive the education that best prepares them to enter our evolving economy.

There is evidence that project-based learning, in which students learn by exploring real-world questions and challenges, results in powerful learning experiences. Relatedly, place-based learning engages students in their physical environments, cultures, histories, and communities. However, these kinds of child- and youth-centered learning experiences aren’t available in most schools.

“We know how to organize and enact project- and place-based learning opportunities to help children and youth become problem-solvers who recognize the purpose of their learning,” said Elizabeth Birr Moje, dean of the U-M School of Education. “With the resources of The Eileen Lappin Weiser Learning Sciences Center, U-M can move findings of cutting-edge research into the hands of teachers, school leaders and policymakers.”

In addition to bringing in the expertise of top researchers and learning experience designers, the School of Education will engage with teachers and leaders in its research-practice partnerships with The School at Marygrove and the Mitchell-Scarlett-Huron Teaching and Learning Collaborative.

Researchers and teachers will work together to produce new research findings generated from practice. This community-engaged work will shed light on what it takes to successfully bring project- and place-based work to life.

The gift is inspired by Lappin Weiser’s deep personal commitment to education. She has served on Michigan’s State Board of Education, the National Assessment Governing Board, the Presidential Scholars Commission, the board of the Michigan Science Center, the Education Commission of the States and the 21st Century Education Commission, among service to numerous other education, arts and civic organizations.

At U-M, Lappin Weiser serves on the School of Education Dean’s Advisory Council and the University Musical Society National Council. Lappin Weiser’s past investment in the School of Education supported TeachingWorks, a program dedicated to improving teachers’ preparation and to creating a professional threshold for entry to teaching. Specifically, her gift launched partnerships with teacher preparation programs for improved teacher candidate education.


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