Learning Levers

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.



University of Michigan undergraduate and graduate students from any campus (Ann Arbor, Dearborn, and Flint) in good standing at any school or college are eligible to enter as individuals or in teams. Students who apply for other entrepreneurial competitions on campus are welcome to participate in the Learning Lever competition.

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

January 2021 Call for proposals 
January–April 2021 Office hours
March 2021 Practice pitches
April 2021 Learning Levers Final Pitch Event


Prize Selection 

A committee that may include 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

  • Can be awarded to multiple projects/teams
  • Supports further development and iteration
  • Between $1,000–$4,000

 The Learning Levers Prize

  • Awarded to a single team
  • Supports scalability, maturation, and dissemination
  • Between $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.

Fill Out Interest Form

To learn more about Learning Levers, to schedule a consultation on education topics, or to receive support year-round, contact Nate Phipps at nphipps@umich.edu.



Nate Phipps
Managing Director, Center for Education Design, Evaluation, and Research (CEDER)


(508) 320-4854


Room 1033
610 East University Avenue
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-1259