How to make school more useful

What is the purpose of school?

Seriously? Have you ever stopped to think what school is supposed to prepare us for? We’re so used to jumping through its hoops that few of us ever stop to look for the connections between school and life.

Most say, “to get a job,” but few can think of any instance where anyone learned about the types of jobs available to them, what they earn, or if they are suited to their personalities and strengths. If this is the main purpose of education, how come it literally is not part of any education curriculum?! The purpose of school is to get a job, but we don’t study jobs at all? Doesn’t make sense, does it?

Second, people will say school is to prepare us for life. It gives us the tools to solve our own problems. Well, let’s brainstorm a few things that adults need to know how to do…


  • Financial literacy: Trigonometry is mandatory but not personal finances? How about learning about types of bank accounts, interest, credit cards, learn how to pay for school, buy a house, get a job, save, invest, donate, pay taxes, balance budget, learn wants from needs, etc…
  • Have a family: learning how to maintain relationships, raise children, work through conflict, stay calm, learn how to de-stress, learn mindfulness….
  • Be healthy! Ah, but school teaches a health class, no? Yes, but when do students learn how to balance personal and professional lives? Go grocery shopping. Cook a meal. Yes, we learn about puberty and the Canadian food guide, but learning about health is much different from living it. And if you say students should learn this from their parents, well, look at your students’ lunches. We’re all on convenience mode – quick and easy. It’s hard to learn from someone who never learned it themselves. Learning about health and living it are 2 separate skills. Let’s try having daily phys-ed to start. Like, every single day! Even better, get teachers participating too! It also helps lift one’s mood and concentration. Let’s learn how to cook a meal! How does an oven work? No seriously, can someone teach me? I never learned this skill.
  • Politics: How about learning how the government works, what different parties stand for and the importance of voting
  • Capitalism: The means of production!

DUP2v_UU0AANbFiAll human knowledge is at our finger tips (i.e., the internet).  Why not learn about the soft skills.


For more inspiration, check out the School of Life’s video below:


A Poem: Nature Eternal

I found a poem I wrote, presumably in high school.

I bask beneath the twilight night.
Everything so serenely right.
And all is loose that once was tight,
As stardust steals away the fright.

I feel their magic fall on me,
And coat me with their mystery;
Telling tales of chivalry,
Of times behind and times to be.

The shameless trees stand tall and proud,
Taking comfort in the crowd,
Protecting life as they’ve always vowed,
While cries of the fallen still echo loud.

A velvet mist hovers o’er the lawn,
Muffling grass’ joyous sound.
To keep the night quiet until the dawn,
When father time completes his yawn.

A soothing breeze comes floating in,
And playfully dances with the wind,
Changing direction at any whim,
It embraces me and holds me within.

I smile up at the man on the moon,
And listen for his distant tune.
But it’s locked within a chainless tomb,
And left lamenting is the call of the loon.

The waves of the lake search for the land,
And try to crawl up shell-less sand.
But they slip from the earth from which the’re banned,
Because no one will grab their outstretched hand.

The air drowns out their cries for help.
Their mouths are gagged by chains of kelp;
Unable to breathe one final yelp,
And never discover how dry land felt.

And as I stare into the soul of the dark,
An ugly stain has left its mark.
But I can’t trace it to its start.
It once was subtle, but now grows stark.

Now the temperature starts to fall.
The earth is cloaked in a ratty shawl.
And traces of nature’s eternal brawl,
Taints the beauty of it all.

By Tammy Gaudun



Lesson Plan: Bullying & Entropy – Scientific Analogies

Question 1: Think of a time when you’ve been angry or mean or both!  What did you do?

You answer is likely that you were filled with powerful, negative emotions and you either took them out on yourself or others.

In simplified terms, entropy is nature’s need to dissipate energy.  For example, heat transfer is dissipative because it is a transfer of internal energy from a hotter body to a colder one.

The second law of thermodynamics states that the total entropy can never decrease over time for an isolated system, that is, a system in which neither energy nor matter can enter nor leave.

Entropy Comic:


Hopefully, you can already recognize where this is going and how it relates to bullying. Basically, when negative (or positive) emotions build up, they do not disappear, they dissipate or spread from areas of high concentration to low concentration.

Bullying and anger can result from a build up of negative energy, which the person spreads or dissipates to those around them. Since the person wants to get rid of that energy, and does not want those feelings returned, they often choose targets who are unlikely to return fire, which may be why some people, “kick the dog”.

Another conclusion from this is that NO HAPPY PERSON BULLIES. If someone is not filled with negative energy, they are not going to spread it around. No happy, accepted, loved person bullies.


Question 2A: Think of instances in nature where energy accumulates? How does it dissipate?

E.g., electrical energy in the sky becomes lightening.


Other examples include all natural disasters: earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes.

Question 2B: Can you think of any positive examples?

E.g., a seed becomes a tree, an egg becomes an animal, food becomes energy dissipated by the eater, etc….

Task 1: WATCH: “To This Day” by Shane Korzan

Task 2: Mind map a Negative scenario

  • In a group: think of an example when someone was mean to you. Often, we think of how other’s actions affect us. What we don’t realize is, is that we also spread those around. How might those around us react to our negative energy? Create a mind map of how far those emotions will spread or draw a picture.



Task 3: Think of ways to dissipate the negative feelings without passing them around

For example:

  • Listen to music
    • Play “Thunder” by Imagine Dragons
      • The metaphor works. Thunder is the effect after bullying.
  • Journal
  • Talk to someone
  • Exercise
  • Play a video game
  • Here’s a list

Task 4: Mind Map a positive scenario

  • In a group: Think of a time where someone was kind to you? How did you feel? How might you have spread the joy to others? Mind map or draw a picture.

Task 5: Share a smile

  • The simplest way to spread joy is to smile at someone. Give your best or silliest smile to a classmate and pass it around until the whole class has been smiled at.




Politics & Philosophy / Capitalism vs. Socialism

I teach this as part of a “Shark Tank” learning cycle. It is really good at bringing in politics and philosophy into the classroom.

Note, the videos contain some “classic art” pieces in the background, two of which contain partially clothed people. I say, “pretend you are in a museum.”

Watch the History of Capitalism and make a t-chart of the pros and cons of it: 

    • Efficient as there is a much higher level of specialization, so there can be a much higher level of production
    • Higher specialization means people have a narrow, alienating focus on life
    • People at the bottom are exploited
    • good business is good for business
    • Value based on monetary worth and not necessarily on the things that make us happy.

Watch a video on Marxism which does a good job and looking at the ills of capitalism and shows the ideals and shortcomings/impracticality of socialism :

Problems identified with capitalism include

  • modern work is alienating
  • modern work is insecure
  • big gap between rich and poor
  • capitalism is unstable (lots of peaks and crashes)
  • capitalism is bad for capitalists (wealth doesn’t equal happiness or fulfilling lives)
  • Ends with the quote, “Philosophers, until now, have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point is to change it.”

How can kids change it? Learn about politics and voting. 

List the political parties in North American and have students try to plot them from left to right.

  • Left = high taxes and high services
  • Right = low taxes and low services

Talk about the differences between Canada and the USA. What are the biggest differences? E.g., health care (impact of no health insurance (heart attack or premature babies = huge bills) , cost of education and the impact of higher tuition costs, the distribution of wealth, and opportunity.

The American Dream? The Canadian Dream? What should our dream be?

Tell students to ask their parents who they vote for and why.




What are the potential pros and cons of the minimum wage increase?

Intro to Entrepreneurism

This is a scaled down version of a “Shark Tank” learning cycle I do.  It gives you the outline without getting into the specifics. Having done this several times with students, there are a lot of different ways it could go, depending on your timelines. I will often drift into politics, capitalism vs. socialism – which leads into conversations about current events (increase in minimum wage, housing boom, wants vs. needs).

Intro Project

Key Terms

  • Discuss the difference between “Goods” & “Services”
  • Discuss “Supply & Demand”
  • revenue (gross) vs profit (net),


  • With the goal of selling something in the student’s home school, think of a good or service that they could sell for an upcoming event (e.g, Christmas, valentine’s day, graduation).
  • List as many ideas as you can. Split them into goods and services
    • Some samples of what my students have come up with E.g., hot chocolate, open gym, candy canes, valentine’s, school merchandise, movie in library, Stationary Supply in each homeroom available for purchase from teacher. Proceeds go to school.

Warm up activity:

Do this Google Doodle activity. I usually just do the phone as a warm-up activity. What are the problems with current phones (breakable, battery charging, privacy, expensive, disposable, easy to lose) and then design a new phone that fixes the current issues.

google doodle

Next, as a group, brainstorm the problems with grocery shopping. Then show them the video about Amazon Go and how they solved the problem of the long check-out lines. See if they come up with any more ideas to revolutionize shopping.

Finally, watch the video How to be an Entrepreneur by the School of Life and/or “How to Start a Business“.


When you start a business, you need to look at the market in which you are entering. Your task for this element is to analyze your industry (school demographics).

  • Can use SCAMPERto discuss what has been done before, whats worked or hasn’t worked and then tweak to fit the desired event.
  • Supply & Demand: This depends on many factors
    • Demand considerations: E.g., Age, Sex, Local. others?
      • Local (Time and space):  TIME: E.g,. In winter, what types of events would be in higher demand (e.g., indoor events, hot chocolate).  SPACE/Location: what is in scarcer supply in school? Junk food? Computers? Free time?  
      • Sex/Gender: Raffle tickets for a video game might be in higher demand for boys.
      • Age: E.g., Fidget toys might be more popular with kids than teachers.
      • Other?

Project Profitability

How much will each individual item cost? What will you sell it for? How many will you sell? What is your projected revenue? Profit? Costs? 


item cost price profit per item sales Profit Overhead Costs Revenue
Bath bomb $2.75 $5.00 $2.25 200 $450.00 $550.00 $1,000.00
candy canes $0.10 $0.25 $0.15 1000 $150.00 $100.00 $250.00
hot chocolate $0.25 $1.00 $0.75 500 $375.00
pencil $1.00 $2.00 $1.00 25 $25.00 $68.75 $50.00
eraser $1.00 $1.50 $0.50 100 $50.00 $275.00 $150.00

What might your Shark ask?

If the Principal is your “Shark” invite them in to discuss all of their considerations: safety, chaos, mess, teacher time, hall congestion, health, permission forms, etc…The principal will likely ask where the money will be going to (field trips, technology, etc..)

Create a Business Plan  

Now that you know what you’re selling, a successful business needs a plan to follow. Develop a business plan that outlines what your business will do, your staffing needs (labor), your sales and marketing approach and how much start-up financing you will need (how much $$ to start everything). Once you have your business plan, you can follow it to create your successful business and use your business plan to interest investors in your company (aka the “Sharks”)

Questions to answer

  1. Company name
  2. Product name
  3. Product: Are you providing goods or a services?
  4. Who is your target audience (don’t say everybody!)
  5. What words would you associate with your brand?
  6. What would you pay for your product?
  7. Where/how would you sell your product?
  8. What would be some of your expenses as a business (what do you need to buy before you can sell? Would you need a loan from the school?)
  9. Who would you need to hire (set up crew, clean up crew, money counters, teacher supervisor)?

In this case, keep your Principal in mind. What would they consider most important (safety, staffing, lack of chaos, not disrupting the school day, etc…)


How will you get people to know your business exists, how will you market your product/service and advertise it to your target audience?  This could be part of your business plan but if it is not you MUST include some marketing and advertising strategies in this project.

  • Signs, announcements, school Twitter or Facebook pages, school website?
  • How will you make your product seem attractive? Research successful sales techniques and try to implement them (catch phrase, make it seem cool, limited time only, bargain, etc…)

Your Business Proposal  (the Pitch)  

You and your group will be creating a business proposal.  In this proposal you will include all of the elements listed above.  Research what makes a successful business proposal (body language, key phrases, being prepared, enthusiasm, etc…). Be creative & good luck!

Co-create rubric with class

Here’s one idea to get you started:

shark tank rubric

Resources (some places to start)

December What Ifs

  1. What if you were asked by a conservation committee to think of 20 new uses for a new pinecone.  Could you do it?  Brainstorm by yourself or with a group at least 20 ideas!
  2. What if you were hired by the Holiday Decoration Company to create a table centrepiece.  You were only allowed to use twigs and Styrofoam cups.  Make or illustrate and describe your creation.
  3. You were on the school holiday dance committee.  You were asked to create a new dance that all the students would be performing at the dance.  Describe and perform your new never before danced dance!  Don’t forget to name it and be ready to teach your class!
  4. You have been thinking about many different celebrations and holidays that you celebrate with your family!  What is valued in all of those celebrations!  Make a list, and then create your own celebration, name and describe it!
  5. You were hired by the Starry, Starry Night Astronomy Foundation to search for a new constellation.  You found one.  Draw the new constellation, name it, share where it is located in terms of other constellations and write a myth or story about why it is in the night sky.  
  6. You were celebrating winter by taking selfies in many different winter scenes!  You decided to upload them to your computer to find that you weren’t in any of the pictures!  Write a story, entitled, “There is Something Strange Happening this Winter!”
  7. You were chosen by your class to make a gift for you teacher or school principal.  What would you choose?  Describe or make it and write a letter to go with it that would explain why you chose this gift.
  8. Winter celebrations are very important to many cultures. Make a holiday chart with as many winter celebrations as the class can think of, including how it is celebrated, the importance of the traditions, games, recipes, etc.  Have the students write in their journals or have a discussion about why respect for each other’s beliefs is important.

Written by D. Wunder