Extreme Oil
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The Journey The History The Science

Lesson Plan 1: Exploring the History of Oil


In this lesson, students will examine the role oil has played throughout human history, how that role has changed over time, and the repercussions of oil use on society and the environment. After brainstorming a list of oil's current uses, students will examine an online timeline to explore how its role has changed over the course of history. Then, utilizing another dynamic online resource, students will complete an in-depth analysis of oil's current and historic applications in the home, in industry, in medicine, and in transportation. Finally, through the use of the PBS series Extreme Oil, students will examine the environmental impact of the oil industry, and decide whether or not they support an expansion of oil drilling operations into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Time Allotment: Three 45-minute class periods (excluding homework time for assessment activity)

Subject Matter: History, Current Events

Learning Objectives:

Students will be able to:
  • Describe oil's changing role in human history;

  • Describe the benefits and applications of the petroleum industry in the home, in industry, in medicine, and in transportation over the last 150 years;

  • Describe the benefits and consequences of oil industry enterprises;

  • Analyze differing viewpoints regarding the expansion of oil drilling into protected lands in the United States;

  • Decide whether or not they support the expansion of oil drilling into protected lands, with an understanding of its benefits and drawbacks.

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From the National Standards for History for grades 5-12, available online at http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/nchs/standards:

Historical Thinking Standard 1. The student thinks chronologically; therefore, the student is able to interpret data presented in timelines and create timelines by designating appropriate equidistant intervals of time and recording events according to the temporal order in which they occurred.

Historical Thinking Standard 3. The student engages in historical analysis and interpretation; therefore, the student is able to compare competing historical narratives.

Historical Thinking Standard 5. The student engages in historical issues-analysis and decision-making; therefore, the student is able to formulate a position or course of action on an issue by identifying the nature of the problem, analyzing the underlying factors contributing to the problem, and choosing a plausible solution from a choice of carefully evaluated options.


Media Components

  • Extreme Oil Episode 2, "The Oil Curse"
  • Extreme Oil Episode 3, "The Wilderness"
For the class:
  • Whiteboard or chalkboard
  • Computers with Internet access
  • TV
  • VCR
For each student:
  • "Oil Change: Petroleum's Role Through History" handout (available here)

Prep For Teachers

Prior to teaching this lesson, preview the videos and Web sites to make certain that they are appropriate for your students. Bookmark the Web sites used in the lesson on each computer in your classroom. Download the Flash plug-in, available free at
, to each computer in your classroom.

Cue Extreme Oil Episode 2, "The Curse of Oil" to where you see a low-income urban neighborhood in Ecuador, and you hear the male narrator say, "Petro Ecuador was also supposed to have cleaned up a number of Texaco's old oil pits." Cue Extreme Oil Episode 3 "The Wilderness" to where you see the BP facility through the truck windshield, and you hear a male voice say, "Oil companies are really caught between two fires."

When using media, provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, a specific task to complete and/or information to identify during or after viewing of video segments, Web sites, or other multimedia elements.

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Lesson Plan 1 Lesson Plan 2 Introduction procedures for teachers organizers for students