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James A. Kelly Learning Lever Prize

Jim Kelly

In recognition of James A. Kelly’s remarkable career reforming school finance, reducing inequities in schools, establishing high standards for teaching, and improving learning for all students, the School of Education is honored to launch a competition to inspire a new generation of problem-solvers and leaders.

The James A. Kelly Learning Lever Prize is a competition designed to challenge University of Michigan students to invent digital tools with the potential to significantly improve student learning. This prize encourages a culture of innovation in education, and rewards the creative, interdisciplinary work of University of Michigan students.

The goal of the James A. Kelly Learning Levers Prize is to support scalable, research-based innovative Ideas promoting student learning in pre-K–12 education. It seeks to:

  • Encourage a culture of innovation in education
  • Reward research-based interdisciplinary education innovations
  • Incentivize impactful and scalable education innovations
  • Leverage technology to enhance learning

Project Criteria

A Learning Lever is an interactive digital tool that helps pre-K–12 students learn more effectively, while empowering them to assume more control over their learning. A Learning Lever harnesses the power of technology to provide students with direct access to content, inquiry, and support.

Learning Levers may include but are not limited to: (a) software programs, applications, games, and competitions; (b) text, workbooks, problem-solving lessons, and inquiry activities or experiences; (c) individual feedback, avatars, and tutoring; and (d) peer collaboration on research, investigation, problem-solving, and sharing.

Successful projects will use sound pedagogy and may be applicable in school, home, museum, or other settings. Read the Learning Levers Prize Rubric for more guidance.

Request for Proposals

To apply for the James A. Kelly Learning Levers Prize competition, you will need to submit one pdf document that answers the following questions:

  1. Describe the Learning Lever you are proposing and how it addresses pre-K-12 learning. Include the problem you are trying to solve, the objectives and goals of the Learning Lever. (400 words)
  2. Why was this Learning Lever selected? What evidence you used (e.g., focus groups, surveys, customer discovery, etc.) to determine this Learning Lever to be the best tool to aid learning and education? (400 words)
  3. A complete budget for the project including justification.

The James A. Kelly Learning Levers Prize RFP is now closed. All submissions will be reviewed by a diverse selection committee. Teams will be notified of finalist selection on March 19 and be invited to participate in the Learning Levers Prize Competition on April 8, 2021. At least one member of each finalist team is required to attend the final event and able to answer questions for the interactive judging panel.


Undergraduate and graduate students in good standing at any school or college on any University of Michigan campus (Ann Arbor, Dearborn, and Flint) are eligible to enter as individuals or in teams.

Participants in other innovation competitions, such as Innovation in Action, Optimize, or Zillion Solutions are encouraged to apply. Participation in these programs is not required, however, and all students and student teams with great ideas should consider applying!

2020-21 Timeline

December 2020–March 2021 Projects will be accepted starting December 1, 2020 through March 12, 2021.
January–March 2021 Virtual office hours / Project consultations.
Contact learninglevers@umich.edu to schedule an appointment.
March 2021 Practice pitches
April 2021 Thursday, April 8, 2021
4–6 p.m.
This will be a virtual event

Prize Selection

A committee that will consist of University of Michigan faculty, staff, students, alumni, and topical experts will decide which teams receive funding to move their ideas forward. Prizes fall into two categories: Development Awards and Learning Levers Prize.

Development Awards

  • Can be awarded to multiple projects/teams
  • Prize amount: $1,000–$4,000

The Learning Levers Prize

  • Awarded to a single team
  • Prize amount: $5,000–$10,000

All teams selected to present at the pitch event will have the opportunity to promote worthy projects to experts in technology, education, and entrepreneurship, as well as to potential venture capitalists and other commercial partners. To learn more about how you and your team can participate in our next Learning Levers Prize, please schedule an appointment to meeting with a Learning Levers representative.

2020 Learning Levers Finalists

Pitches from our 2020 competition are available below.

  • ApplyU
  • Breakout
  • CoinFlipper
  • FeedBee
  • MintyBrain


To learn more about Learning Levers, to schedule a consultation on education topics, or to receive support year-round, please email learninglevers@umich.edu to schedule an appointment with a Learning Levers representative.