Nicole Becker

Adjunct Associate Professor

Postdoctoral research fellowship

  • Postdoctoral Research, Michigan State University (2012–2014)


  • Evidence-centered curriculum design and assessment
  • Engaging students in scientific practice
  • Model-based reasoning and argumentation in chemistry contexts

Research interests

For practicing scientists, models play key roles as communicational resources and tools for reasoning and problem solving. Engaging students in scientific practices, such as using models to predict and explain chemical behavior, has been highlighted as a way to help students develop a deeper understanding of the nature of scientific inquiry and core concepts[1] (National Research Council, 2012). However, there is evidence that traditional instruction alone may do little to help students use models of chemical phenomena effectively. For instance, despite instruction, students may use mathematical models in an algorithmic fashion without deeper understandings of the nature of the model and the conditions for which it would be valid. Students may also struggle to coordinate information across different types of models, for instance from mathematical representations to graphical or atomic-molecular depictions of the system.

Research in the Becker group explores how undergraduate chemistry students develop expertise in using models to predict and explain chemical behavior. Using qualitative and quantitative research methods, we explore the impact of instructional strategies on scaffolding students’ model-based reasoning in chemistry contexts. The goal of this work is to inform the design of evidence-based instructional materials for introductory chemistry courses and to improve student performance and retention in these courses.

[1] National Research Council. (2012). A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. Washington, DC: National Acadamies Press.

Recent publications

  • Lazenby, K., & Becker, N. M. (2019). A Modeling Perspective on Supporting Students’ Reasoning with Mathematics in Chemistry. ACS Symposium Series It’s Just Math: Research on Students’ Understanding of Chemistry and Mathematics, 9-24. DOI: 10.1021/bk-2019-1316.ch002
  • Lazenby, K., Rupp, C. A., Brandriet, A., Mauger-Sonnek, K., & Becker, N. M. (2019). Undergraduate Chemistry Students’ Conceptualization of Models in General Chemistry. Journal of Chemical Education, 96(3), 455-468. DOI: 10.1021/acs.jchemed.8b00813 
  • Brandriet, A., Rupp, C. A., Lazenby, K., & Becker, N. (2018). Evaluating students' abilities to construct mathematical models from data using latent class analysis. Chemistry Education Research and Practice, 19, 375-391. DOI:10.1039/C7RP00126F
  • Becker, N. M., Rupp, C. A., & Brandriet, A. (2017). Engaging students in analyzing and interpreting data to construct mathematical models: An analysis of students’ reasoning in a method of initial rates task. Chemistry Education Research and Practice. DOI: 10.1039/C6RP00205F
  • Becker, N., Noyes, K., & Cooper, M. (2016). Characterizing students' mechanistic reasoning about London Dispersion Forces. (2016). Journal of Chemistry Education. 93, pp 1713–1724, DOI: 10.1021/acs.jchemed.6b00298
  • Becker, N., Stanford, C. & Cole, R. (2015). Translating across macroscopic, sub-microscopic, and symbolic level: The role of instructor facilitation in an inquiry-oriented physical chemistry class. Chemistry Education Research and Practice.16, 769-785. DOI: 10.1039/C5RP00064E 
  • Cole, R., Becker, N., & Stanford, C. (2014). Discourse analysis as a tool to examine teaching and learning in the classroom. In D. M. Bunce & R. S. Cole (Eds.), Tools of chemistry education research, ACS Symposium Series. Washington, D.C.: American Chemical Society. DOI:10.1021/bk-2014-1166.ch004 Becker, N. M., & Cooper, M. M. (2014). College Chemistry Students’ Understanding of Potential Energy and Atomic-molecular Interactions. Journal of Research in Science Teaching. Advance online publication. DOI: 10.1002/tea.21159
  • Becker, N., Towns, M. H., Cole, R., Wawro, M., Sweeny, G. & Rasmussen, C. (2012). Explanations grounded in the particulate nature of matter: A sociochemical norm in a physical chemistry class. Chemistry Education Research and Practice, 14, 81-94.
  • Towns, M. H., Raker, J. R., Becker, N., Harle, M., & Suttcliff, J. (2012). Representations used in undergraduate biochemistry classrooms: Development of a taxonomy of external representations in biochemistry and connections to the biochemistry tetrahedron. Chemistry Education Research and Practice, 13, 296-306.
  • Becker, N., & Towns, M. (2012). Students' understanding of mathematical expressions in physical chemistry contexts: An analysis using Sherin's symbolic forms. Chemistry Education Research and Practice, 13, 221-236.
  • Cole, R., Becker, N., Towns, M., Rasmussen, C., Wawro, M., & Sweeny, G. (2012). Adapting a methodology from mathematics education research to chemistry education research: Documenting collective activity. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 10, 193-211.
Nicole Becker portrait
PhD, Purdue University
BS, South Dakota State University