Looking for a challenging research topic for students to tackle after the holiday break? How about this:

Explain in detail what is going on with oil and gasoline prices these days.

Want to supplement lessons relating to oil and gas economics with some current, high quality videos? No need to subscribe to a commercial video-on-demand service or ask your school librarian to reserve a video on DVD or VHS for you. The December 8, 2008, 60 Minutes special “The Oil Kingdom” is available online for free viewing, featuring (among other things) interviews with high ranking Saudi officials.

Part 1 is 12 minutes and 33 seconds long, in which “Lesley Stahl meets with officials in Saudi Arabia and takes a tour of its vast petroleum facilities, which are gearing up to produce even more oil.”


Watch CBS Videos Online

Part 2 is 11 minutes and 30 seconds long, in which “Lesley Stahl takes an inside look into the world of Saudi Aramco, the world leader in crude oil production and the country’s sole source of wealth and power.”


Watch CBS Videos Online

More videos about “oil prices” are available from CBS online. The same day this 60 Minutes special aired, I challenged K-12 administrators gathered for a leadership retreat in Austin, Texas, to address this question about falling gasoline prices. The VoiceThread we created as well as PollEveryWhere survey is linked from my post that day, “Why are gasoline prices going down?” Here are the current results for this survey, with 119 respondents to date:

In addition to having your students use PollEverywhere and other tools to conduct their own original research on this topic, you might have them analyze the results of the poll above. The results to date (which I have archived to Flickr) reveal some basic misconceptions on the part of many respondents about how oil and gasoline prices are determined in the United States and on global markets.

One of the best things about this assignment is it’s highly complex and far from clear about what “the answer” is. It’s also fairly compelling since gasoline prices are both directly relevant to students’ lives and those of their families, and involves very interesting geopolitics.

Last November I wrote the post “Ideas for student research and digital stories in 2008: Controversial topics,” in which I provided multiple project idea examples. The Wikipedia:List of controversial issues page continues to be a great place to find research topics which can meet the five-fold criteria I outlined in that post:

  1. Select a topic which isn’t a cut and dry issue: Something which cannot be fully understood on a factual basis by simply reading a single article in WikiPedia.
  2. Select a topic with clear connections / ties to mandated standards and curriculum guidelines for your students.
  3. Select a complex topic which is multi-faceted and you may not completely understand entirely yourself.
  4. Select a topic about which students can interview local experts or other individuals to learn more information as well as solicit different opinions.
  5. Select a topic which can include a “local action” step of what students and other listeners/viewers of the digital story can DO THEMSELVES to get involved and take action on the identified issue.

Steve LeVine’s blog “The Oil and the Glory” is a good resource for up to date analysis and links on geopolitics relating to petroleum prices and competition. (It was my source for the above videos from 60 minutes.) A search for “oil” on the website GlobalVoicesOnline.org also yields relevant reports from the field relating to petroleum. (Of course there are also references to “oil paintings” and cooking oils, but those results are interspersed with plenty of references to petroleum issues.)

In addition to researching oil prices and politics, the Guantanamo Bay detention camp remains a very important issue and topic to explore as well as understand. Spiegel Online’s December 23, 2008, article “The Last Days of Guantanamo: An American Nightmare Could Soon End” is a good source on this topic, and the WikiPedia article for Morris Davis is a good idea/resource lead. It will VERY interesting to see how the Obama administration will handle this situation. As a U.S. citizen committed to human rights not only for the residents of our nation but also everywhere in the world, I look forward to U.S. political leadership which will end the abominable travesty of justice which Guantanamo has been and continues to be under the administration of GW Bush. For more of my thoughts on this issue, see my post “POWs, Geneva Conventions, Guantanamo, and the Supreme Court” from 21 Oct 2004 and “Thoughts on President Bush’s State of the Union Address” from 2 Feb 2005.

Consider allowing and encouraging your students to create digital stories which address their research findings and analysis. For ideas and inspiration, check out Frank Guttler’s post “A Thousand Words – Storytelling and Editing” from December 21st. (Thanks Matthew Needleman for the heads up on this post.)

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