Science teacher Ryan Pfeifer is always open to new teaching strategies if there’s a chance they might increase student achievement. When Pfeifer surveyed former students from Washburn Rural High School in Topeka, Kansas, they told him that high school hadn’t prepared them as well as they’d hoped for college science classes, especially the online learning components. Pfeifer decided to “flip” his Honors Biology course, creating online lectures and resources for students to explore at home, then using class time on new activities to apply the concepts and promote deeper understanding.
The process of flipping his classroom took two years to plan and implement. Despite initial hesitancy from both pupils and parents, the experiment succeeded, with a 5-6% increase on assessments compared with prior years. Pfeifer has continued to hone his flipped instruction to maximize efficiency and impact, expanding it to his International Baccalaureate (IB) Biology class, where students now perform above worldwide averages on IB assessments. Seeing Pfeifer’s success, other science teachers at Washburn Rural have adopted the flipped-classroom approach.
As chair of Washburn Rural’s science department, Pfeifer led curriculum changes to align with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and added new courses, including Forensic Science, AP Environmental Science, and Environmental Resources and Wildlife Science. All classes include lab-based, practical application strategies that incorporate NGSS practices. Former students often return to report that they are ahead of their peers in lab skills, an important leg up for college STEM classes. Pfeifer shares his knowledge freely with colleagues and has delivered professional development on the flipped classroom, educational technology and Webb’s Depth of Knowledge. During the pandemic, Pfeifer explored various online learning platforms, researched instructional approaches for online instruction, and introduced Canvas to fellow teachers to help smooth the transition to virtual classrooms.
Pfeifer sets high expectations and pushes students to better themselves each day. He wants all students at Washburn to succeed, not just his own. Pfeifer gave up his advisory period to become an interventionist, ready to help any student who needs extra support in life sciences. He meets with referred students daily to reteach concepts they struggle with and evaluate their understanding. Thanks to Pfeifer, numerous Washburn Rural students have caught up and are thriving in their science classes. He serves as an adviser for students’ long-term science research papers, an IB graduation requirement. Outside the classroom, Pfeifer is the vault coach on Washburn Rural’s track and field team. He built the pole vault program over several years, starting with athletes who could barely make it down the runway holding a pole, and ultimately leading the team to multiple medals at state championships.
Pfeifer earned a bachelor’s in biology education in 2011 from Kansas State University and a master’s in education in 2013 from Baker University.
"I feel like I was made to be a teacher. I love..." (read more)
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