What is an easy and smart sounding research topic for a high school student to write a 10 page paper about?
This is the kind of assignment that the college freshmen I teach in First-Year English Composition and Rhetoric are given three times per semester. The advice that I like to give my students is to choose a subject that you are passionate about or have an interest in learning more about. Select a topic that personally affects you, and you will have no trouble sounding "smart" because the act of researching will be an engaging process for you. Do NOT pick a topic that you have no interest in simply because it seems easy to write about; this will often lead to the classic teenage disease known as "procrastination," which can lead to the even more fatal condition known as "writing your paper the night before it is due."
Here is what I like to ask my students when they are searching for a topic: Look at the world around you and your life. Are you happy with it? Would you want to be living this exact life in this exact world's conditions in fifteen years? The answer is likely no. The average human being can find issue with something in their life. So what is it? What would you like to change?
Personally, a topic that I care a lot about right now is the private prison industrial complex and the incentivizing of locking people up. What this means is that non-violent offenders are being given longer and longer prison sentences for drug-related offenses, all for the financial benefits of huge corporate investors who profit when prisons are full. This has resulted in huge personal consequences for inmates who will likely not see the light of day for years (if ever) and has decreased efforts toward limiting recidivism (the likelihood that one re-commits a crime) and rehabilitating criminals. A vast majority of these sentences are also reflective of a sinister judicial system which is predicated on racial bias and prejudice, with 70% of imprisoned individuals being people of color. This topic impacts me because I spent a year teaching Creative Writing to maximum security students in a state prison; I saw firsthand how damaging imprisonment was to the psyche of my students, many who came from impoverished and underprivileged backgrounds.
So, to reiterate: think hard about what troubles you about the world around you and choose something to advocate on the behalf of. Pick up any newspaper and you'll find some cause worth fighting for.
"Easy and smart sounding" is going to differ from student to student and reader to reader. There is not going to be a single topic that I could recommend that would fit those two characteristics for every person. My recommendation is that you pick a topic that you are interested in. That will likely make the research feel easier because you are personally interested and invested in the topic. For "smart sounding," I recommend picking a topic that hasn't been done so many times that your reader is likely to be bored with it before he/she even begins reading the paper.
I'd like to suggest a possible topic for you. More than likely, you and your classmates were not happy with this assignment. First, it's homework. Second, it's a big homework assignment. I think an interesting research topic for you is to research whether or not homework is actually beneficial to student learners. I did my master's thesis on this very topic, and a flood of new research has come out since then. You shouldn't struggle to find information about how and when homework is and/or isn't beneficial to students. You could even guide your research toward finding homework types that are most beneficial to students.
If that doesn't sound interesting, then perhaps you could research on the benefits and the pitfalls of the "gamification of education" that is happening across the nation. In my experience, students like games and video games. Gamification of education seeks to bring those elements into the learning process. Your paper could explain what the general idea of gamification is, and how it can benefit and hurt student learning.