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Pinterest and teachers: How the site is filling a gap in teacher training.

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There’s a Big Hole in How Teachers Build Skills, and Pinterest Is Helping Fill It

For most of us, Pinterest brings to mind crafts we’ll never make, places we’ll never visit, and wedding dresses we’ll never buy. But when teachers log on to the social scrapbooking site, they search for things like pasta-noodle skeletons, rock-candy recipes, and numbered cootie catchers—not as part of a crazy home-decorating scheme, but to actually use in their classrooms.

At a time when social media has broken down geographic barriers across countless professions, teachers have turned to places like Pinterest in droves, and not because they’re particularly prone to distraction. For thousands of teachers, Pinterest has become an important venue for professional development—a place to find creative lesson plans, classroom decorations, and teaching tips. Suzy Brooks, a fourth-grade teacher in Falmouth, Massachusetts, checks Pinterest multiple times a day, scouring the site for discoveries that often make their way into her classroom, sometimes within hours. She’s unearthed a student-teacher letter-exchange strategy that helped her shore up her writing instruction, for instance, and a way of teaching math concepts through dance moves.


“Everyone from the 60-year-old secretary to the 29-year-old custodian” uses Pinterest, says John Hughes, the principal at Cottonwood Elementary in Orangeville, Utah, who also teaches sixth grade.

Pinterest isn’t likely to supplant traditional, in-person forms of professional development anytime soon, nor would most teachers necessarily want it to. But its growing popularity as a source of lesson plans and other classroom ideas reflects a longtime void in the way America has historically gone about training and re-educating its teachers: For many, that training can simply be too rigid and inefficient.

Pinterest is by no means intensive. But teachers like to search it.

It’s not necessarily ongoing. And it’s certainly not a one-stop solution to shortcomings in teacher training nationally. But many teachers like the fact that they can search for exactly what they want to learn—middle school social science lessons, for example—and connect with others who teach the same grades or subjects.

Unlike a traditional professional development workshop, which moves at one speed and appeals to a broad audience, Pinterest can be much more fast-paced and individualized. “Oftentimes, in-person [professional development] does not offer strategies we can immediately use in our classroom,” Brooks says. “Pinterest does.”

Pinterest usage, in general, has risen steadily over the past few years, but teachers have become an especially important group for the site. Education pins per day climbed from 500,000 to about 1.3 million last year. And when the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education polled educators online in August, 38 percent reported using Pinterest to find resources (second only to Twitter). Last summer, Pinterest gave teachers their own hub on the site where they can find resources organized by grade level and subject. The page now has 32 boards and more than 100,000 followers.

Popular lesson plans on Pinterest can be posted and reposted thousands of times, and those involving food do particularly well. A DNA strand that’s made from licorice, toothpicks, and marshmallows notched more than 2,000 reposts. So did one that showed how Oreos can be used to teach the phases of the moon.

DNA strand licorice marshmallow toothpick recipe Pinterest and teachers How the site is filling a gap in teacher training

Oreo phases of the moon Pinterest and teachers How the site is filling a gap in teacher training

Here's a fun one. Vocabulary lessons.

cajole 9th grade vocabulary pinboard pin Pinterest and teachers How the site is filling a gap in teacher training

A teacher combines ninth-grade vocabulary words with images and definitions on Pinterest.

Screenshot via Pinterest.

A typical Pinterest board will yield creative tips on how to make a classroom more organized. 

A few months ago, for example, she repinned a picture of a door with the words vertical and horizontal pasted parallel and perpendicular to its frame. The pin was, at first glance, a classroom labeling suggestion, but Brooks used it as a broader reminder to present concepts visually as well as verbally in her classroom.

horizontal vertical classroom Pinterest and teachers How the site is filling a gap in teacher training

Though much of what circulates on Pinterest is free, some teachers are profiting by selling their own lesson plans to one another for small fees and advertising their products on Pinterest.

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