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:


6 ÷ 2(1+2): BEDMAS vs Distributive Law and final conclusions.

So when I read this problem on the internet the other day, I couldn’t possibly imagine all of the thinking I could do on it! I really went down the rabbit hole here, so I am posting all of my conclusions on this problem.

First I watched a bunch of YouTube videos to see what others thought about the problem.  Essentially, there were two lines of thought.


On one side were the black/white pure bedmas/pedmas people, who got the answer 9. They saw this problem as this:

Part of the problem with this approach is that if any of the term were to be replaced by a variable, the equation gives you a different answer. Which brings us to those who got the answer of 1.

Distributive Law is #1

Distributive law,  symbolically, is  a(b + c) = ab + ac; saw the relationship between 2(1+2) as a case of distributive law which should be done first (part of the “B” in bedmas – take care of the brackets first).  They viewed the problem as this:


Stated symbolically,



So which one is right? My personal conclusion is this…

I always tell my students math is a language. Form matters, just like punctuation matters in language (Eat, Grandma vs Eat Grandma). The guilt of ambiguity lies with the author. While mathematically, the (÷) and / are equal, the ÷ is not used in algebra, therefore its usage in a simplified equation leads to confusion. Instead, the problem should be rewritten without the (÷) in multi-term equations because if any term were replaced with a variable you’d get another answer. Write the problem as either of the following.

But more importantly than form, math out of context, like words out of context, means nothing, and represents nothing. Context matters! Otherwise you’re not actually solving anything real! So don’t make math about meaningless numbers and algorithms. Make math meaningful. It shouldn’t just be about the rules. Mathematicians solve problems, and so should students.









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.




Math Language: Saying “groups of” instead of “times by” = understanding

Instead, say “groups of”

A small tweak in the language here will make a big difference in building student conceptualization. Without formal instruction, children know what it means to have a certain number of groups of something. Even very young students organize toys into pairs or understand when snacks are evenly distributed, or not. 

“Times” gives them nothing to hang onto, but thinking about groups does. Students may not be able to readily visualize “6 times 10,” but “6 groups of 10” is easy to imagine and even draw.

Maria Howard  on September 19, 2017

To read the rest of the article, click here:


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?