I'll have you know, I wrote a long and detailed review of TRISMS' Discovering the Ancient World. However, reading back through, I've decided to hit the high points here, so you don't have to wade through a bunch of details if you don't need them.
In brief, I'm very impressed with this integrated history- and literature-based curriculum for eighth grade and up. Readings are taken from source documents: excerpts from ancient myths of a variety of civilizations, Egyptian and Chinese writings, the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Code of Hammurabi, Iliad and Odyssey. Writing assignments draw on skills as taught by the Institute for Excellence in Writing. Questionnaires help the student distil facts in concise form. Students learn how to research and present their findings in oral reports. Map and timeline work establish context. Quizzes and tests gauge retention. Suggestions for multi-level teaching stretch the curriculum from sixth grade through high school.
There you have it, in short form. Read on for details.
I've read about TRISMS on the homeschool discussion boards. I've browsed their materials at the local curriculum fair. However, browsing just does not do this curriculum justice. I really needed to take some uninterrupted time when I wasn't being barraged with noise and color and distracting surroundings, and now I have.
Having taken some time to go through Discovering the Ancient World I am very impressed with the thought that has gone into this curriculum. The materials are carefully chosen and well organized for ease of use, with a great deal of the planning already done for you.
Discovering the Ancient World comes in a three-pack: Manual, Student Pack, and Answer Keys. We'll deal with each separately. Bear with me - there's a lot here!
This study helps the student to gather and condense information about civilizations in general and various areas of their history (art, music, and architecture) using a series of questionnaires. The student sets people, places and events in context through timeline and map exercises, and learns to assimilate information, synthesize and retell what was learned as research and writing or oral assignments are completed.
I like the logical organization of the manual, starting with its practical and descriptive Table of Contents. Sections are listed in order, with a brief description for each. Thus, we find that the Manual consists of the following:
Time Tables - This is a one-page chronological listing of the eighteen units in the study, divided into ancient world civilizations, along with their dates.
Orientation - This, as the name implies, is an introduction to a mode of learning. You won't want to skip this section. It introduces the components of this curriculum and explains how to use them. Oh, I suppose you could jump right in if you wanted to, but these eighteen pages contain a wealth of information, not only the authors' focus, but also a description of each part of the curriculum the student will be dealing with within the study. Materials and activities are discussed. There are basic instructions for constructing a timeline, if you're not familiar with the concept, as well as an overview of the Student Coursebook that will be created during the study, using forms and maps provided in the Student Pack. There are also suggestions for multi-level teaching.
Resource and Reading Selections - This section contains a brief introduction to the reading list, followed by the list itself, organized by unit. The authors have done their best to list books and films that should be available from a public library, and alternative book selections are included in the list for variety and convenience. References are categorized by use (reference, resource, historical fiction, periodical, video, audio) and age (young adult, junior level, picture books).
Unit Plans - Each of the eighteen units is laid out in chart form, allowing you to see at a glance how assignments correlate to the following subjects: Art, Music, Architecture, Science, Civilizations, and Literature. A list of vocabulary words is also included, along with historical events, map details, "Other Areas of Interest," and a list of "Compare Questions" (points to ponder, essay or discussion topics) that will be covered in the unit. These pages are especially helpful when used as a checklist while going through the unit.
Science Assignments - These are questions about science-related matters, ordered by unit. There are questions for most of the units in the study. Questions may be used as prompts to stimulate discussion, or starting places for a research project or writing exercise. The emphasis here is on "telling" more than doing; this is not lab-based science, but rather more to do with reading and writing.
Literature Assignments - According to the instructions, the student first studies an ancient civilization, and then reads one or more selections from that civilization's literature. All required reading is located in the User's Manual except for Bible assignments; students may, after reading an excerpt, wish to seek out and read the book an excerpt was taken from.
Many of the literature assignments are intended to be completed along with the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) video series. However, the authors assure us that most of the assignments can be completed without IEW. Having used IEW in another context, long before becoming acquainted with TRISMS, I second the authors' recommendation of IEW for learning to write.
For each unit, there are a number of writing exercises, both standard academic fare and creative. Reading, critical thinking, and many formats for communication, both oral and written, are employed. Your student may write a tribute, letter, poem or news story; outline, retell, critique, or analyze a piece of writing; write and perform a monologue or engage in debate; practice note-taking and outlining; employ the elements of literary analysis; and more.
Literary Selections - These are, as mentioned, excerpts from ancient works. It was fascinating to read through these, to find the "flood story" recorded in many different cultures, for example. This 160-page section takes up nearly half the User's Manual, and give a flavor of the writings of the ancient civilizations studied in this course.
Literature Helps - In this section, you will find definitions of literary terms. Categories include story elements, point of view, figures of speech, writing techniques, and types of literature. There is a brief description of rhetoric along with "levels of argument soundness" - sort of a very short course in believability, followed by a thumbnail description of essay writing.
All that was just the User's Manual!
In addition, this set contains a fat sheaf of student pages, the Student Pack. Among the pages, you'll find a number of different questionnaire forms for civilizations (short and long form), art, architecture, and music history. There are maps and worksheets, quizzes and tests. There are questions to prompt further research, as well as vocabulary work and comprehension and review questions. These pages form the foundation of your student's Ancient World Coursebook, a record of "art, music, architecture, literature, religion, science, government, economics, geography, and lifestyle" of the civilizations studied in this course.
The set also includes a book of Answer Keys. There are suggested answers for the questionnaires (art and music history, architecture, and civilization), as well as the science and literary assignments, the worksheets, quizzes, and tests. The "Literature Keys" include samples of writing assignments written by students who have used Discovering the Ancient World, along with suggestions to the teacher for grading their students' work, as well as using these student samples for further writing and editing exercises.
Included suggestions for recording work on a transcript are helpful for those who use this course in high school. Suggestions for multi-level teaching allow the home educator the flexibility to span a wide range of ages and grades; however, the material can also be used independently by a motivated older student, and is well-suited to a group setting such as a co-op.
Thorough and challenging, this study can be used as an overview of ancient civilizations, or can provide an in-depth study of ancient history and literature. Highly recommended.