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TRISMS History’s Masterminds Review and Giveaway

I am excited to tell you about TRISMS History’s Masterminds. It is different! It offers so much more than any other history curriculum for middle school and high school that I have found! It is not just a history study… it is designed to build upon a foundation of research, discovery, and language. The primary goals are to teach students to ask questions, find answers, transfer information from reading to thinking, to writing, to speaking, and to begin mastering the skills necessary for doing high school level work. You see what I mean… that, in and of itself, is exciting and different! But there is more. Much more!

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I have been using Institute for Excellence in Writing as our core writing curriculum for several years now. I desperately wanted my boys to start using IEW in their History studies but was really struggling with how to integrate them. Enter TRISMs. I knew their products wove IEW through the curriculum, so I started investigating more about TRISMs. Last year when I was at the Teach Them Diligently homeschool convention in Nashville, I saw that TRISMs was one of the vendors in the vendor hall. I made a beeline for their booth! There I met Linda Thornhill, President of TRISMs and one of the authors of History’s Masterminds. She explained how their curriculum covers multiple subjects. How they focus on helping children learn to work independently. How they use great historical fiction as part of their immersion into the various cultures they study. Yep, I was sold! So allow me to fill you in on all the details.

TRISMs History’s Masterminds is an award-winning middle-school curriculum  that integrates all subjects around history (excluding lab sciences and math). It covers World History, Language Arts, Geography, Literature, and of course writing via IEW. TRISMs offers credits in many subjects and is NARS approved and rated. It uses integrated study where all subjects focus on a point in time, from 3500 BC to 2012, and introduces the history makers–the Scientists, Explorers, and Inventors of their time.

What Makes TRISMs Different?

  • Research – Rather than requiring the purchase of certain books with questionnaire answers, TRISMs takes the next step and teaches students to find answers on their own using various resources the students find.  Research skills are essential for college, and critical thinking is necessary for LIFE!
  • Literature selections included – No more hunting for literature selections! They provide a great variety of selections covering  subjects such as Historical Fiction, Biographies, and Historical Events.
  • Student Directed –  There’s no need to create lesson plans since the lessons are already laid out for you!  Your students learn to take responsibility for their assignments, learn time management, and cultivate organization skills.
  • No Textbooks – TRISMs students create their own textbooks/coursebooks.  These books allow students to add creativity to their research, dig deeper, and develop more organization skills. If your student has a particular interest, this is where you weave it throughout his or her research. We have a love for Israel, so every single subject my students cover, they have one question they’re sure to research – What is happening in Israel at this time? It has been very interesting! We have another expansion up our sleeves here, but I’ll share it in a later post!
  • More than Western Civilization – While most history-based curriculums focus on Western Civilization, TRISMs teaches students about the rest of the world.
  • Integrated with Other Subjects – It makes homeschooling so much easier when we can have all the subjects working together building on each other. Using TRISMs, language arts, writing, history, science, geography, art, music, architecture, rhetoric, philosophy, economics, and culture-studies all come together and culminate in a great history study.
  • IEW – Speaking of integrating writing, if you choose to purchase Institute for Excellenece in Writing’s Teaching Writing Structure and Style (TWSS) program to use with the TRISMs curriculum, you will receive instructions on where and how to integrate it into the curriculum. Students learn how to write in the context of the time period they are studying.  We are big fans of IEW and would recommend using it with TRISMs, but this curriculum is so flexible you can add a different writing curriculum if you choose to.
  • Movies – It even offers suggestions for movie selections to help students get a feel for the time periods they are studying.
  • Academics – It includes unit and quarterly tests.  These tests incorporate all types of testing skills from multiple choice and true and false to writing essays and filling in blanks.

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What do you Receive with History’s Masterminds?

  • Teacher’s Manual and Answer Key – This includes the teacher orientation section (which you really need to read), research guide, literature helps, reading list, research timelines, lesson plans, science assignments, worksheets, quizzes, and tests.
  • Student Assignment Book – This includes the research guide, literature helps, research timelines, lesson plans, science assignments, language assignments (including poetry or excerpts they are reading), and all of the IEW TWSS assignments.
  • Student Pack/Test Packet – This includes all research questionnaires, worksheets, maps, quizzes, and tests.

To get a feel for what a typical week might look like, here is a Lesson Plan example to review. The lessons are presented on 1.5 pages and in the last column are potential books to read (see “Reading Selections” image below) . If you are a little confused looking at it, you are not alone. It took me a little while to absorb what is going on (so don’t forget their website offers a Lesson Walk-Through to help).

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Here are sample reading choices for the week above.

trisms reading sample

In the reading list above, notice the G.A. Henty books!! If you don’t already know it, we love Henty Historical Fiction! Several years ago I created a Henty book list in order historically instead of by publication date on my personal blog … so having Henty books as part of the reading selections just made me appreciate this curriculum that much more!

Our Week in Action Example

Even with all that information, if you are like me, you might be a tad overwhelmed looking at this lesson plan grid. If you need a a more tangible walk through, let me give you a week in the life of our TRISMs studies.

As I mentioned, TRISMs is a research-based curriculum. For each Mastermind from history (the explorers, scientists and inventors), students are given questionnaire forms, each with a standard list of questions. My boys use the internet, encyclopedias, reference works, biographies, and nonfiction books as their primary sources for their research data. They get a feel for the era and time by reading historical fiction (a whole lot of GA Henty, but we sprinkle in others because Henty’s books are challenging!). The questionnaires focus on specific research and content. Other assignments might require interviews, book reports, map work, drawing, and compositions.

A few of the additional advantages that we have seen are:

Flexibility:  I have added different aspects that interest my family, and I love that the way this curriculum is designed to allow those adjustments! Each family can find books that interest them and can tailor the assignments to them.

Multi-Age / Grade Level: It is really easy to adjust this curriculum to be more or less intensive. I actually have a 5th, 8th, and 9th grader using it. We added economics for both the 8th and 9th graders in order to use it as a high school level elective.

Stimulates Thought: Instead of just passively reading a text, my children are actively engaged in digging for information. I think that has been the biggest eye-opener for me. The very act of them searching for the information has made them retain even more because it is not handed to them. They have to find it.

Worldview: – TRISMs does not teach a particular worldview, and for us that is a huge blessing. Being Messianic, we have a love of Israel, so we regularly add books about Israel to the literature selections. We also add the question, “What was happening in Israel around this topic?” on every research topic. That is one of the primary reasons I love this curriculum. It is so easy to customize it to fit our family’s worldview!

It really pulls together all the various materials and curriculum I’ve been using into a cohesive historical study that directs and guides critical thinking and research. It is exactly what I was hoping it would be and more! To top it off, TRISMs even offers a 30-day, 100% guaranteed refund if you are not satisfied, so you have nothing to lose! If you would like to learn more about this product or to purchase it, visit their website. Be sure to tell them Hip Homeschool Moms sent you!

When I am choosing a curriculum, I like to know the people behind the product, so if you are like me and want to meet the author, keep reading below the giveaway!

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Meet the Author

Linda Thornhill is one of the two authors of TRISMs. She graduated from the University of Tulsa with a B.S. in education in 1977. Her senior paper was on curriculum and learning styles. She has experience with various learning settings: open classroom, multi-level, and peer grouping, within the public school system. She homeschooled her three sons and currently teaches art classes and TRISMS courses in home school co-ops as well as teaching art individually and at a private school. Linda has a talent for making learning fun from resources already on hand.

Why did you homeschool? 

Linda: Our neighborhood school was not a good or safe place.  I am a teacher. After much prayer, a group of the moms in our neighborhood decided we would work with our children at home and provide linda thornhillsome extra classes among ourselves.  It was very bold at the time but a wonderful experience.

What motivated you to start TRISMs and how did you get started? 

Linda: Sally Barnard, my good friend and co-author, and I were already homeschooling and were quickly coming up to Middle School.  This was a time when you could get Alpha/Omega or, if you knew someone at a Christian school, you could get textbooks.  Sally was tired of textbooks, and I had always created units of some type with odds and ends.  I love integrated learning and going beyond the paragraph in a textbook.  We wanted something that didn’t exist yet.  We sat down and outlined what we wanted for our children.  So began our journey.

We had no plans to publish our work or start a business.  After the first year, friends started borrowing our boxes of handwritten and typed notes and lessons. A friend of mine, Beverly North, had started selling her Spanish Made Fun curriculum and invited me to go to a book fair in Arkansas – just to see if people would be interested in this type of learning.  People were interested.

I came home and talked to Sally. We looked at the boxes and the calendar – another school year was coming.  We decided we weren’t interested.

I got a letter a little later in the mail with a check.  This lady from Arkansas had decided she was using our curriculum the coming school year with her children.  I called and tried to send back the check, but she was decided. She wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.  She would take the curriculum if I had to send it to her a week at a time.

Before we publish, we use it with our children and selected families and co-ops.  It goes through many adjustments and tweaks before it appears on the market.  Then we listen again.  The next edition has some user-friendly changes and additions like IEW.

What types of learning styles does TRISMS cater to? 

Linda: TRISMS is a blueprint that can be crafted to fit different learning styles.  There are audio books, movies, and YouTube available for those audio learners.  The coursebook can be as hands-on as you like as well as the special interest.  You can also enhance the science/inventions with hands-on projects.  Our public library has a whole Science Fair section, so it’s easy to find more for that area of study.  Some students make the most beautiful coursebooks. For the visual learner the research to fill out the questionnaires is like searching for buried treasure.  It’s out there, go find it -maps, journals, letters, books, National Geographic, and encyclopedias.  The timeline is that visual graph that makes it all come together.  A world map starting from the beginning shows our “shrinking world” by way of transportation and communication.

How much parental involvement is required for using TRISMS? 

Linda: There is a bit of a learning curve up front for parents and students at the beginning–especially if you haven’t used a unit type study before.  (I relate it to learning to drive.  There are so many little tasks that have to come together, but then you are driving.)  Selecting resources and reading materials can be done together.  Later, as students learn what resources provide a certain type of information, that becomes much easier.  There are Research tutorials in the book.  Students will meet new authors and types of writing that they will begin to seek out.  There are flexible lesson plans to follow allowing the curriculum to fit your schedule. After a few lessons, the students understand the questionnaires and the organization of their coursebook. After that, the parent can oversee the student’s progress.  Updates at dinner are nice to see how the study is progressing.  You can be as involved as you want to be.  But this is a time for growing independence and learning how to think and communicate respectfully with evidence and logic.

We did math last or we would have spent all day on school.  We also did reading after lunch during ‘quiet time’ (napping baby) or before bed.  Every year looked a little different.

In History’s Masterminds, there is a “special interest section” that follows a student’s personal interests. What creative ideas have students come up with? 

Linda: This is the fun part and also the “ah ha” lesson in History’s Masterminds.  The student selects the topic and how he or she will pursue it throughout time.  This makes school more interesting, and there comes a point when he realizes the skills he is learning can apply to anything he wants to learn.  This can be as little as noting the information on the timeline to making a questionnaire for the coursebook, building models, playing the games that were discovered, cooking the recipes, sewing the clothes, or creating a new language.

Students who are interested in cooking enjoy the cooking activities and making a recipe book. They research what food items were available during different time periods and where they came from in the world.  Fashion with everything–from hair styles, shoes, and hats to clothing, materials, and closures.  Some students have built the ship models, recorded different written languages, and even created their own languages–not unlike Tolkien. Those who are interested in various sports enjoy learning about ball games, entertainment, board and/or card games. One student wanted to become a veterinarian, so he studied shepherds and animal husbandry and the different types of medicines used on animals to the present.  Some very interesting ones were: how people get clean, types of transportation from feet to rockets and submarines, communication types such as flags, Morse code, smoke signals, trail symbols, hobo marks, sign language, etc.

Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for a homeschooling mom considering using TRISMS? 

Linda: It has been 25 years, and homeschooling has changed a great deal, but parents are still looking for how to best educate their children.  TRISMS allows you to make the curriculum fit your family and needs, not the other way around. You begin to see learning in a new way.  Learning is not just contained between the covers of a book between the hours of 8 and 3.  When you make learning your life style, the world becomes your classroom. We are learning all the time! It’s fun to discover there is chemistry in the meals you make, health in meal planning, math in the coupons and household budget.

TRISMS broadens your fields of study and introduces you to many ideas, people, and places, and then integrates them in a way that students can consider, communicate, and retain.  How to think, not just what to think.

About the author


Trish is one of the owners of Hip Homeschool Moms. She has been married to her best friend, David, for 20 years and they have three sons (ages 17, 16 and 14). Trish is from the coast of North Carolina, but they now live in rural West Tennessee on a 40+ acre farm. She has been homeschooling since 2009 and her homeschool style leans towards a Montessori approach with a heavy emphasis on hands-on learning. They also own a small business that Trish runs from home. Trish’s family is Messianic and they love studying the Scriptures, learning Hebrew and growing in their faith and walk daily. In her spare time, Trish loves to write, work in their garden and can regularly be found trying to learn something new, modeling that learning is indeed a life-long endeavor!


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  • Hey Trish this looks really interesting thanks for offering this wonderful giveaway. Trisms looks like it would be alot of fun

  • This was a great book for getting an Quick overview of world history. The students look at world events through the eyes of explorers, inventions and scientist. I like the research based approach as it taught them to think about what they are studying as we used different resources. I’d have them ask questions like “Who’s telling the story?” Was it a true account or was it colored by the story tellers view?” ” Is the resource they chose reliable?” I felt this kind of learning begins to prepares them for adult life of decision making and forming their own opinions and why. Masterminds can be very hands on , you choose your rabbit trails, or just very pen and paper depending on your student’s learning style. My personal favorite was the maps. These come as a download and you can print and use them for many other subjects besides just the Mastermind assignments.