Nicole Becker

Dr. Nicole Becker
Assistant Professor
E355 CB

Ph.D. Purdue University, 2012
B.S. South Dakota State University, 2004
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: 

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.