State Education Departments Are Taking to Pinterest

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — January 12, 2017 4 min read
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One of Curriculum Matters’ most-read posts last year was about a study on teachers and curriculum that found that most teachers report that Pinterest is one of the sites they’re most likely to turn to for classroom materials. In a survey, some 87 percent of elementary teachers and 62 percent of secondary teachers told the RAND Corporation that they consulted the site “for instruction.”

Now, state education departments are starting to meet teachers and families where they are. Pennsylvania’s education department announced Wednesday that it had a brand-new Pinterest page: @PADeptofEd. It’s one of more than half a dozen states using the site.

Pinterest is a social media site where people or organizations create themed “boards,” on which they “pin” images and links of interest. It’s popular among the soon-to-be-married set as a way to share charming centerpiece ideas and among the food-obsessed as a place to share recipes and good-looking pastries. Teachers use it to share everything from organizational strategies (here’s a sample binder for lessons for a substitute teacher) to lesson plans that are marked as being aligned to the Common Core (here’s an elementary grade lesson on butterflies). The proliferation of such lessons has led to concerns that some teachers may rely heavily on unvetted information.

In Pennsylvania, Nicole Reigelman, the education department’s press secretary, said that the department’s Pinterest page is not intended to provide curriculum or lessons. “It’s more about resources or tools that can supplement or complement what’s happening in the classroom already,” she said. The state has a separate online portal of standards-aligned lessons.

Instead, the department hopes to provide pins on a range of topics: “We have a STEM page that includes interesting ways to do STEM education, a health and nutrition board that talks about healthy eating and food,” she said. “We’ll monitor the analytics and see where they’re going and evolve based on their needs.”

The state has more than a dozen boards so far. State employees will approve and post pins, which will include new content created by the state and shared content from other sites.

Reigelman said that the project started last summer, when a conversation with other state officials brought out the popularity of Pinterest among parents and teachers.

A quick search of Pinterest finds that Georgia, Arkansas, Alabama, Arizona, Maryland, Wyoming, South Carolina, and West Virginia are among the states that have created accounts. The states use their accounts to varying degrees: South Dakota’s education department seems to have an inactive account and Maryland’s has just over a dozen followers, while Georgia’s has more than 1,000 and a much larger set of shared pins and boards. There are also a number of ghostly accounts for “Departments of Education” that seem to be entirely unused. (Other education organizations, including local and national teachers unions’ and various professional associations and nonprofits, also have pages on Pinterest.)

Georgia’s account includes everything from field trip ideas to a “healthy fundraising” board that includes “ideas to help schools continue fundraising efforts while complying with the federal ‘Smart Snacks in School’ policy.” Academic content makes up a smaller portion of the site, though there are some links to the state’s college- and career-readiness report and some boards for different subject matters.

Oklahoma’s education department has an entire Pinterest page devoted to teachers of English-language learners, including resources for teaching students who speak specific languages and things to know about migrant students.

Pennsylvania’s Reigelman said the education department hopes that parents and caregivers will check the site and use information from it to help keep young people engaged over the summer. The department, like most others, already has a Twitter and Facebook account. A day after it launched its Pinterest page, it’s up to about 130 followers.

In a press release, Pennsylvania’s education secretary Pedro A. Rivera said that “Pinterest is a powerful planning tool that provides significant value to users. The department is proud to offer this new platform to residents of the commonwealth, and hopes that Pennsylvanians will engage with the helpful resources provided.” (The press release also mentions Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s efforts to increase education funding and information about the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, lest social media seems frivolous.)

While surveys like the RAND Corporation’s have shown that teachers are using Pinterest and other social media sites for classroom resources, it’s less clear how that fits into the overall picture of classroom instruction for the average teacher. Pinterest may serve mostly as a home for lists, links, and organizational ideas, or some teachers may be using resources they find there to replace what they’d otherwise be finding in textbooks.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.