The Sassafras Twins and

Our Grade 3 science curriculum this year has been based around the adventures of the Sassafras twins, a living book curriculum by Elemental Science.  The living book approach is based around the Charlotte Mason philosophy that you should use ‘real’ books to teach, instead of text books.  I’ve always felt very connected to the idea that books are teaching tools in and of themselves, no additional work needed, so this approach appealed to me a lot.  The curriculum revolves around a novel, starring the Sassafras twins Blaine and Tracey, as they adventure through the world of science.

Though you can just use the main story as a living text, there is also a curriculum that goes along side the novel, expanding on the scientific information embedded in the story.  We used this curriculum for the first book on Zoology quite happily, but I found that the same approach wasn’t working for us when we used it for the second book focusing on  Human Anatomy.  Backing up a little I will say the there is nothing wrong with the curriculum, it is detailed and allows for lots of learning to take place.  It includes copy work, experiments and projects as well as resources for further learning.  For the first module, I found the additional materials worked really well for us and we enjoyed all of the experiments and activities.


However, when it came to studying the Anatomy module, we suddenly found ourselves quite bogged down by the curriculum portion.  Perhaps it is the time of year, or perhaps the methodology just became a bit repetitive, but we went from enjoying our science to sort of dreading it.  I think a big part of the issue is the vocabulary involved in learning about Anatomy and the fact that Neirin is still a learning writer.  We are still working on cursive and handwriting in general, so to couple that process with handwriting complex vocabulary about the human body was a real struggle.  I had considered leaving it aside altogether when I was introduced to a technological solution for our issues.

Huwyl, is now attending public school and was introduced to a website called in his Language Arts class.  It’s a collaborative tool that allows various contributors to build boards and resources together, in Huwyl’s class it was used to record information and perceptions on the novel they were reading in class.  When he showed it to me I could immediately see it’s potential as a learning tool; it is really intuitive and allows users to add images, videos and even record their own voices.  Below is a mock up I made for comparing novels using themes and setting.

It is really easy to create a virtual pin board that is full of information and quick to create; as soon as I started playing around I knew I had the solution to our science slump.  Instead of laboriously going through the process of asking questions, writing up the answers on the white board and then waiting for Neirin to copy it down, we went hi-tech.


When I started to play around with the site, I could see immediately a variety of applications.  Above is the first board that Neirin created alone, in response to a chapter on the 5 senses.  It brings together information he remembered from the chapter, as well as videos and images he was able to directly source from Google still within Padlet. 

Like most kids, Neirin finds typing a lot less stressful than handwriting, so instead of a miserable kid whining ‘Do I have to?’ every few seconds, I have a perfectly happy one learning without really noticing.  This resource also allows him to be more creative in response to the material, not being limited by what he can comfortably hand write and draw.  My favourite bit on this particular board is the GIF of the two kitties fighting with the tagline “Taste my green Lightsaber” on the section devoted to taste.  A perfect marriage of science, science fiction and kittehs.

When I decided to make the switch over from hand written notes to Padlet, I spent some time converting Neirin’s existing notes into a virtual board.  This gave me the chance to try out the format and see what it can do, I was also able to present Neirin with something of a fait accompli.  As we went forward he just needed to add to the board with each chapter, rather than starting from scratch which, I felt, would have been rather self defeating.  As well as speeding up the process of note taking, we now have a fun resource that we can use for reference, or to share with friends, that can be easily understood.


While I’m happy to work on foundational skills as an important part of our homeschool, I also don’t want every day to feel like a torment.  I believe that skills like handwriting take time to evolve, but I don’t want to limit my kid’s conceptual understanding to what they are mechanically able to produce.  Since we first starting our schooling process, when Huwyl was only 5, we used narrations to reflect learning; this allowed us to explore interesting material without bogging us down with written work.  As time has moved on my philosophy remains the same, expose the kids to material that encourages them to think, question and evolve.

My approach to education has always revolved around two interwoven strands, skills based learning that creates a transferrable base and subject specific learning that encourages broader thinking.  Something that I feel mainstream education gets very wrong is the direct connection between what a student is given conceptually vs what they can record.  A student can be a slow or even dysfunctional writer, but can still  grasp complex ideas well beyond the scope of their written work.  When we limit students to only what they can mechanically produce, we are missing out on the opportunity to expand and grow their understanding across all subjects and disciplines.

So as we continue to work on fluid handwriting, I am happy to use the wonders of technology to quickly and efficiently record the materials we are using.  I’m not sure what Ms Mason would make of all this flashy nonsense, but I really fail to see how anyone can object to light saber wielding kittehs.  All in the name of science, of course.

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