Interesting Presentation Topics
March 2, 2010 10:00 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to keep my class interesting. What a unique topic I can research and present on?

Greetings Hivemind,

Every few months my class is required to conduct a short research project about a current topic of our choice and then present about a 5 minute speech to the rest of the class.

However, this being the 6th time my class is doing it this year, many of the typical topics have been exhausted. To give you an idea, we've had students present on cellphone laws, the effects of modeling on society, gun control laws, abortion, gender discrimination in sports, and the like.

My turn to present is coming up again soon, but I'm looking for an topic that will make kids go "I never thought about that before". I'll try to keep the options wide open, but I'm looking for something current or relevant, that's not too technical, which a position can be taken on.

One idea I've been playing with is how the current generation's distinction between their public and personal lives have been blurred by the advent of social networking sites, such as Twitter and FB. I noticed that Malcom Gladwell covers some interesting topics in his books, such as the idea of 10,000 hour rule, genius isn't the key to success, etc, that fit the bill as well.

So Hivemind! Do you have any topics that you think high schoolers would benefit from and enjoy hearing about?
posted by Atarah to Education (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Have you considered Food Deserts ?
posted by astapasta24 at 10:28 PM on March 2, 2010

Learning styles, such as VARK. I did a presentation on this for a psych class, and I think I was able to keep everyone's attention. I focused on things like Study Without Tears, and framed it as an alternative to the normal "go to school every week day for 100+ months" routine by giving active learning tips like picking classes with teachers that present information according to your learning style (i.e., pick the teacher who always lectures the entire period if you are a aural learning, but maybe pick the teach who prints a forest worth of handouts if you are a visual learner.)
posted by niles at 10:56 PM on March 2, 2010

How freaking cool the ocean is, and why we should be spending billions exploring the depths instead of going back to the moon.

Commonalities between groups typically considered disparate (Muslims and Christians, White Collar and Blue Collar, Immigrants and Natives, Children and Adults).

Going off your idea: whether or not crowds are intelligent, and how to tell the difference between a hivemind and a mob.

What do you think of the ideas presented so far? We can use this space to brainstorm some, if you like.
posted by Galen at 12:56 AM on March 3, 2010

Ethics: how "fixed" should our ethical standards be? It draws some relatively easy to grasp philosophical concepts and gives the class a chance to examine historical ethical standards, cross-cultural ethical standards, the gap between "ethics" and "law" and also gives them the chance to examine their own ethical standards and perhaps forecast what "future ethics" might look like with ongoing cultural change.

They'll be familiar with ethics at some level of course, but most people tend to take their own norms for granted.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:11 AM on March 3, 2010

The effects of sugar and fructose is a currently hot topic that kids should be made aware of at an early age. The bottom line is that sugar is considered a "high fat" diet by many who treat childhood obesity, which was mysteriously overlooked for a generation.
posted by Brian B. at 5:50 AM on March 3, 2010

The topic of bioenergy has various controversial aspects which aren't too technical to understand by the layman.

For instance, the choice of what to make your biofuels from has ethical ramifications - i.e. the food vs. fuel debate. Solutions to that dilemna are largely along the lines of using non-food grade bioresources, like wheat straw, corn stalks, algae, and other agricultural/municipal waste or by-products. There are frequently greater difficulties in processing these alternate sources though - for instance, fermenting straw requires additional processing steps to break the straw down into fermentable sugars, and the straw still contains a great deal of lignin - a material that provides the biomass with structural strength, but cannot be fermented. So you get lower conversion, less yield of ethanol per unit of straw as compared to starchy grains like corn. There are other methods of converting this biomass into energy such as gasification, which is a thermal degradation technique (hot environment with no oxygen, doesn't burn but releases methane, hydrogen and carbon monoxide - valuable gases), and this gas can be used in turbines to generate electricity or chemically processed to produce liquid fuels again. These are cost-intensive processes though, and not nearly as well-developed as fossil fuel technologies. Frequently the best estimates for the cost of bioenergy is roughly twice the current going rate for energy from fossil fuels (ballpark figure). The infrastructure to support these technologies must also be improved (biomass sources, distribution centers for ethanol, aging power grids), but this seems to be a chicken vs. egg problem.

The pros are interesting though, some problems provide unique opportunities. A problem with bioenergy is that you must minimize costs - transportation costs, don't haul this stuff too far. Biomass is also seasonal (of course), and some of the technologies are actually better implemented on a smaller scale. So... go local. Farming communities and remote areas with lots of biomass resources can generate their own fuels and power, and this also creates jobs. And as the price of gas goes up, biofuels become more reasonable in price, more initiatives get started, and the technology is further developed, bringing the costs down a bit more in the process. Really, it doesn't seem like a question of if, but when.

There is also the debate of whether biofuels are actually carbon neutral or not - how you're using fossil fuels to drive the vehicles that harvest the biomass. But there's the carbon cycle to think of - plants get their carbon from CO2 in the air and it's a short turnaround, whereas fossil fuels are straight from the ground into the air. This presents a risk of derailment in your debate though, on general greenhouse gases and global warming on the whole.

This topic gets me going like the energizer bunny, sorry if it was tl;dr... folks, mefimail me if you want to discuss further or need to be pointed to some resources. I don't mind helping on the technical side if you need it.
posted by lizbunny at 7:16 AM on March 3, 2010

Here's some possibilities that I've seen my students work with. These are for larger research projects, but surely they can be tweaked to suit your needs.
*Should terminally ill prison inmates be given compassionate release? Under what conditions?
*Music and/or art therapy (particularly as treatment for children)
*Is advertising geared toward children unethical?
*Discrimination against religious groups (media or otherwise)
*Anti-depressants and their possible overuse
*Cloning as a viable way to protect or actually restore endangered/extinct species

I can likely point you toward some good sources for most of these if you want to memail me. There's more where that came from, too. Good luck!
posted by lucky25 at 8:13 AM on March 3, 2010

Personally I think these would be interesting and relevant, and would fit into the same category as the previous topics you noted:

- Vaccines: risks and benefits, how the current controversy developed, what are the real facts behind the arguments

- Minors' rights to healthcare privacy - you can find your state's laws here regarding whether people under age 18 can get contraceptives, STI services, abortion, and other related kinds of health care without their parents knowing.

- The death penalty

- Vending machines in schools - should they be able to sell unhealthy stuff like soda and candy in public schools, given the obesity epidemic?

- Have any programs in your school been cut or downsized in the past few years? Music? Art? Gym? Perhaps you could research how those programs used to be funded, how the decision was made to cut them, and what research has been done about the effects on students and communities when those programs go away.
posted by vytae at 2:36 PM on March 3, 2010

Tell them to investigate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We had to be able to argue both sides of the issue, and the process of learning about that struggle changed my life.

Your students are likely to have little actual information on the subject apart from a cursory (and possibly biased) overview in a World History class. Rather than listening to TV pundits or newscasts or even parents, they have to form their own conclusions, if that's even possible. It's a current issue that will affect them in ways they can't now imagine.
posted by lambchop1 at 4:06 PM on March 3, 2010

For more brainstorming ideas, use Google Images to check out some cool infographics. Echoing Galen's point about how cool the ocean is, I saw an infographic about it recently that blew my mind!

Sorry I don't have any suggestions personally, but I hope this idea provides a good jumping off point for you.
posted by wwartorff at 6:38 PM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

wwartorff: Thanks for the link to the infographics. There went hours of productivity :P
posted by Galen at 8:45 PM on March 4, 2010

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