The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor announced that alumna Eileen Lappin Weiser will gift the school $14.7 million to establish the Eileen Lappin Weiser Learning Sciences Center at the U-M School of Education.
Her gift represents the largest commitment in the School of Education’s 100-year history. The objective of establishing the center is to help reshape teaching and learning to meet the needs of many kinds of learners and prepare them for the jobs of the future.
“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,” says Lappin Weiser. “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 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.
According to U-M, 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.
The school also states 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,” says 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.”
The school 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 also 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.
Lappin Weiser 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.