We the People Learn to Adapt and Trust in a Digital Age by Patricia Arabia

“I am a firm believer in the people.  If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis.  The great point is to bring them the real facts.” (Credited to Abraham Lincoln)

My concern with the digital age is how to distinguish truth from hoax on the internet, strong evidence from weak evidence, real facts from non-facts. I am not well versed in the internet, not confident I know how to bring my students the real facts. Students must internalize how to find the real facts for themselves in order to vote well, to participate in our government and to protect their rights and their community.

Through our end-of-the-year project, Mandela Law and Public Service Juniors strengthened their evaluation of evidence skills and met well a national crisis, the California water policy emergency.

Some context: I teach 11th grade Law and Public Service at Fremont High. This course is the second of 3 in a career technical sequence required by California for our Mandela Law and Public Service Pathway Academy.  This course is the intermediate legal reading, writing and research course, American Law and Politics.

As an inquiry into my practice, I wanted to test and adapt my lessons to several strategies for digital research. These strategies include using Google Drive as a collaborative tool in evaluating evidence and drafting persuasive written briefs, finding and using government and Assembly members’ websites, using Google Presentation to create slideshows to share findings and claims and throughout, evaluating in a rigorous way sources found on the Internet.

I am 60 years old and entered teaching at 45. Pretty personal information but universally understood as relevant context when discussing digital research tools. The good news is that the tools are changing daily so my young adult students are meeting a lot of the tools right along with me; complex news is that my students are fluent in “digital” as a language and I am barely literate.

In law school, 1980, I had been taught LexisNexis search logic and during my first year at the US Attorneys Office we celebrated the arrival of a typewriter with 10 pages of memory.  I’ve adapted to digital tools in legal research. In interviews with my students they say exactly that: they want to adapt, quickly, to the digital age.

Another concept students and I agree on is that trusting digital sources requires a professional standard of care. My inquiry this year develops from my inquiry throughout the years: how to teach students to internalize a professional process for evaluating the strength and persuasiveness of sources they find, particularly sources from the internet.

Lens of Civic Engagement: Defining this lens as: issues analysis, action and reflection and then cutting to the chase, my lessons improved remarkably in regard to our civic action. My students and I started to learn to publicly reflect and spread our civic action on a youth publishing platform, Youth Voices.net. Our skills in evaluating sources are still in the intermediate stages, still developing.

Here, in my students’ words, is an assessment of our end of the year project:

Student 1:

On March 18, 2014 the Junior class of Mandela at Fremont High School in Oakland went to a Senate Committee [hearing on water use] and to meet Rob Bonta. Rob Bonta is the Assembly Member that represents Oakland in the Assembly. We went to talk about water rights and what we can do to have more access to it. The trip was overall fun and very informational. Mr. Bonta told us a lot and we shared with him that we were prepared to talk and learn about water. He was surprised that we knew what we knew; we prepared hard for a few months. Mr. Bonta didn’t have a long time to talk to us but when he talked to us he gave us a lot of information. (Student 1 first draft of YouthVoices Blog)

Student 2:

In my class we also talked about solutions on how everybody can be aware of what goes on with OUR water and stay informed on meeting about water. For example most meetings on water in California are in the Capitol, Sacramento which  is hard for people who live far away to reach. In many cases some people don’t even have cars to attend which is why we came up with meetings in local places or towns nearby so people can actually attend. Another solution or way in which people could attend was if there was day care or some type of babysitting offered so their kids could be safe and they attend to keep up with what goes on. Overall there are many solutions to this problem of lack of information getting out to the public but what we mainly ask for is to make it easier for people to access and attend these meetings so they could be aware of what goes on with one of the most important things on Earth.

Overall we learned many things about water but our main point is to have people aware of what goes on with their water because it is being misused and something needs to be done before it is too late.  (Benjamin, reflection essay, draft for Youth Voices.net)

So. About testing of strategies and lessons:

My digital coach introduced me to a test called the CRAAP test (the name wears on one about as quickly as you’d think but it does motivate giggly teenagers) developed at CSU Chico and discussed on the internet. C is for currency (very important in law and government policy arguments, often left off the history tests I am familiar with), R is relevance, A is authority (good detailed follow up questions on the sourcing), Accuracy (again vital to law and government policy analysis, often left off of history tests) and P is purpose.  In both the accuracy category and purpose category there are thoughtful questions regarding bias. CRAAP test

We worked with the test from the beginning of the year.  It is clumsy in that there are 27 questions and the vocabulary is a stretch for most of my students.  We did Talk to the Text on the test itself, a reading strategy we use throughout the academy. (One’s text should look a lot like a used law book–written all over with questions and connections.)

We used the CRAAP test on evidence in early lessons. As a class we chose 10 questions we would be committed to and then as shown in the two Water Brief outtakes below, I only required the currency, relevance and bias analyses.  Even with this cut back, my students struggled to evaluate three pieces of evidence for their Water Briefs.

Throughout the project, I tried a few strategies to jolt motivation.  To begin the research, students worked in pairs on two documents I found for them on the topic of water: First, a one-pager from a 100-page-plus report by Thirsty for Justice; the page speaks to dramatic unfairness and local consequences of the complex over-maneuvered water rights structures in California law and government policy. And second, a published proposed set of demands around Environmental Justice.  Students were instructed to find one statistic or number fact, then to research for one source corroborating the statistic and one source contradicting the statistic.

Student teams were then asked to create a slideshow presenting the fact and the two pieces of corroborating and contradicting evidence using the Google Presentation platform. Creating the slideshows ignited noisy, creative, engaged research and presentations. The presentations were helpful as jigsaws to differentiate my guidance between the natural or more experienced researcher and presenters to the just-getting-started students. I noted that all through the year the Google tools were engaging to all newcomers and I had a lot of newcomers throughout the year.

Once more, I provided the research: an article from the SF Chronicle on a GOP proposed water bill for California and a political cartoon on the same subject.  To model and teach the vocabulary and process of evaluating evidence I created a document in Google Drive, had the students each enter their Gmail address in the share box and voila we had a document to create and collaborate on in real time.

This is the “trust” issue Damian speaks of in his interview.  On the one hand, I was getting ready to let the students fire up their computers and search for water and Assembly facts on their own, and many did a great job, but on the other hand while we collaborated to create a written evaluation of our evidence, a few mischief makers decided to erase each other’s work, write slanderous graffiti, and so on. My job is to teach work-based skills. I imagine this day taught everyone some work based cautions.  On the third hand, the document created did give me a way to respond to students’ evaluations and push their thinking further.  In the document, linked here, you can read my questions to Olivia. template to share analysis of evidence

So. The work. Students were asked to find an Assembly member or Senator to represent. They were to write a Bio about the politician and find two quotes from the politician on California water policy. One Senator was on the water committee and yet there was no quote to be found. Voila, again, in a digital world getting a statement can be easy. We emailed him our request and had a beautiful quote by morning:

From: Dystanie.Flores@sen.ca.gov [mailto:Dystanie.Flores@sen.ca.gov]

Sent: Friday, March 14, 2014 2:22 PM

To: Cooper, Lawrence

Subject: Fw: Request from student Re: March 18th hearing on ground water


I hope you’re looking forward to your visit to the Capitol on Tuesday.  I’m not sure what sort of quote you are looking for, but since the hearing will be focused on groundwater, I hope this is helpful to you:

Investments in cleanup and storage of groundwater are very important to the communities in the 33rd Senate District.  This year we are discussing a statewide water bond that, if approved by voters, will provide vital funding for improvements to groundwater resources in California.  Along with those discussions, we need to consider the affordability of water, especially in disadvantaged communities in California.

Lawrence Cooper

Office of Senator Ricardo Lara

33rd State Senate District

(916) 651-4033

From: teacherXXXX@gmail.com

Date sent: 03/14/2014 01:13 pm

I am a student in Ms.Arabia’s class I didn’t feel comfortable using my name so she said I could use her name. Our class is coming to the March 18th hearing on groundwater and our assignment is to research the members of the water committee and I chose you but I cannot find two quotes from you on water. Please advise.

Arabia, Patricia

Once students settled on a politician, they were to draft a Water Brief which stated the student’s demand on California water policy, the law of California on water and their analysis of the evidence I had handed them along with the corroborating and contradicting evidence they found. Damian Googled black Assembly members and found the website for the Black Caucus.  Suddenly he was super engaged. A portion of his report and CRAAP test results follow:

The Facts:

  • Isadore Hall, III; represents Compton, Ca and Carson, Ca. 64th District
  • Isadore Hall, III speaks of the creation of a sustainable statewide water policy (wikipedia.org, February 25th, 2014)
  • Isadore Hall announced Friday that he and Democratic colleagues will push for a statewide bond measure that would raise tens of billions of dollars for new water distribution infrastructure and groundwater cleanup (Daily Breeze, newspaper used by southern L.A county, February 7th, 2014)

*Currency: When was the info published or posted?

This information was recently published in 2014 of February.

*Relevance: Does the info relate to your topic?

Yes, because it speaks of water rights within an urban community. It connects with our own communities, so it’s a better insight of our water.

  • Thirsty for Justice: “17% of Asian-Pacific Islanders without  plumbing in Oakland, CA” (pg. 16)

*Currency: The information is out of date (2005), but it is still relevant dealing with today’s issue.

*Relevance: Yes, the information is relevant because it shows how people in urban communities of color are stripped of water resources that we all should benefit from.

Original Sources:

  • The fact found from Thirsty for Justice is from the 2000 census of plumbing percentages. These being facts from 2000 shows that it is old.

*Currency: When was the information published?

The information was published in 2000, showing its age with the topic.

            *Relevance: Does the information relate to your topic?

Yes, the information is relevant because it shows the constant problem of water rights remain and we still fight for water rights.  (Damian, portion of Water Brief)

To an extent, Damian did analyze currency and relevance, but not bias. I was pleased that for corroboration he took the “plumbing” fact to its source, the census.  On the day we met with Bonta and the Senate, Damian asked first to sit in Bonta’s chair (“sure”) and then related his statistic from Thirsty For Justice, “17% of the folks in Oakland without plumbing are Pacific Islanders”–every part of that fact merits attention and Bonta did do a double take and say, “That bears attention.”

Issue: Is it a true fact? What is the context of that fact? What has happened in the 14 years since the census? All good questions. What should we do with them?  The amount of time it took to get here concerns me because we are just scratching the surface of evaluating the source. That is one problem. The next problem is that we are not doing much with the evidence in terms of analyzing it.

I do not think that the CRAAP test itself was internalized. I have feedback from our Juniors’ history teacher and English teacher and from the student interviews that students reference the CRAAP test in their writing tasks in those classes as a way to evaluate strength of evidence, but the reference seems to be the end of it. I am pleased that students engaged in the research, I am pleased that they began to consider asking questions of the evidence they found.

I think I will use the CRAAP test again, but I will add lessons in follow up evaluation and analysis such as these questions from another teacher in the project who used a research tool similar to the CRAAP test:

“What do YOU think?

  • Is it important to answer every question? Why or why not?

  • What do we do when we find sources where there are a lot of unanswered questions?

  • What do you think about the credibility of your site after investigating answers to these questions?” (Haslanger research resource)

And I plan to scan and possibly follow through with the build-up lessons in this source: 15 lesson plans for research , also shared with me by others.

My students and I  have begun the process of finding and evaluating “real facts.”  The engagement of digital tools, collaborating on a shared document in Google Drive, creating a presentation with Google presentation to learn about corroborating and contradicting evidence and the 2014 crisis of water in California encouraged a class that was already motivated and engaged.  We ran out of time and I have to leave it to the people. I will try to guide my students to practice thinking and evaluating and trust they will build their skills from there.

Action: Pulling what we had together and taking it on the road: I based the structure of the Water Brief on the essay in the AP Government test and on my experience in Law and Government service.  I instruct, “It is your job to make the politician you represent look smart in the next hour on a complex topic. For example, the President has a press conference on water policy in California.”

The Water Brief is a distillation of all we learned this year. Here is the introduction to Olivia’s Water Brief:


03-18-2014, Senate Hearing on Groundwater

Mrs. Arabia
Water hearing

Water Brief


We want to have the people of California decide what they want to do with THEIR water instead of having only the wealthy people decide. We can announce the meetings on the news to have the community be more aware of it. We should also host the meetings in a convenient, public and safe environment so the people who wish to can attend them. They should not be in the middle of the day when no one can attend them but they should be in like around 6 pm so that the working class citizens can have time to attend these meetings without having to miss work.


1.Constitution The California Constitution states that water must be used in a way that benefits the people and public welfare.

2. Bills currently in play

    • GOP bill diverting the river to the wealthy farmers
    • Cal Senators: money for farm workers out of a job
    • Jerry Brown and Calif Legislators–20% cut in personal water use


1. Anthony Cannella is responsible for district 12, this includes Merced and San Benito.

“Lack of water means a loss of jobs, a shrinking food supply, and threatens the integrity of our drinking water” – Anthony Cannella

Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?

Yes the information relates to my topic because it mentions and talks about water which is one of our main focus. The source states Cannella’s opinion on water which was one of the main ideas of my passage.



Lincoln would be satisfied to see Damian and Olivia and Benjamin and Mateo learning to evaluate real facts.  Get us the real facts and we, the people, will meet the crisis.  Damian repeated the phrase in his final exam: We the People.  We are ready; Are you ready for us??

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