Nicole D. LaDue

Research Interests

  • Spatial Thinking and Geocognition
  • Visuals in Science Education
  • Recruitment and Retention
  • K-12 Earth Science Literacy

Research Activities

My research incorporates methods from psychology and education research to study how students learn in the geosciences. Most of my current work targets students at the introductory level to better understand how spatial thinking and visual representations influence their understanding. Additionally, I am involved with projects on interest development and student recruitment into the geosciences.

Spatial Thinking and Geocognition

Spatial thinking involves how people mentally manipulate information. This skill is related to success in science fields and particularly in geology. There is mounting evidence that while some students come to college with strong spatial thinking skills, there are ways to train this skill. I am currently investigating how these skills relate to problem solving with common geoscience visuals.

Visuals in Science Education

The geosciences rely heavily on a variety of visual representations (such as maps, graphs, diagrams). Some students may struggle with the visuals presented in their geology class. I am currently running a study using eye-tracking and interviews to understand how introductory students use geologic cross-section diagrams to solve problems involving the principles of stratigraphy.

Recruitment and Retention

Sadly, the geosciences are among the least diverse of all STEM fields. One approach to understanding this issue is to investigate how people develop an interest in the geosciences. Past work has involved surveying and interviewing geoscientists about the origin of their interest in geology and the types of out-of-school activities that may spark or foster their interest. Projects related to interest and factors influencing recruitment into the geosciences are currently in development.

Graduate Students

NIU is one of few institutions offering geoscience graduate degrees with an emphasis on geoscience education. M.S. and Ph.D. students in my research group will be required to complete education research methodology and statistics coursework appropriate to their project. I encourage applications from students with an undergraduate or M.S. degree in the geosciences. Students with unique backgrounds in teaching, psychology, etc. will be required to complete geoscience coursework to ensure their content knowledge is well grounded in the geosciences. It may also be possible to pursue secondary teacher licensure concurrently while completing an extended M.S. program.

Please contact me for more information about my current research activities and student funding opportunities.


LaDue, N. D., & Shipley, T. F. (2018). Click-On-Diagram Questions: a New Tool to Study Conceptions Using Classroom Response Systems. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 1-16.

Callahan, C., LaDue, N.D., Baber, L., Sexton, J., van der Hoeven Kraft, K., and Zamani-Gallaher, E. (2017). Theoretical Perspectives on Increasing Recruitment and Retention of Underrepresented Students in the Geosciences. Journal of Geoscience Education Special Issue: Synthesizing Results and Defining Future Directions of Geoscience Education Research, 65 (4), 563-576.

Cheek, K.A., LaDue, N.D., and Shipley, T.F. (2017). Learning about Spatial and Temporal Scale: Current Research, Psychological Processes, and Classroom Implications. Journal of Geoscience Education Special Issue: Synthesizing Results and Defining Future Directions of Geoscience Education Research, 65, 455-472.

LaDue, N. D., J. Taber and M. Hubenthal (2015), Promoting new collaborations for education research in geoscience, Eos, 96, doi:10.1029/2015EO032123. Published on 26 June 2015.

LaDue, N.D., Libarkin, J.C. and Thomas, S.R. (2015). Visual Representations on High School Biology, Chemistry, Earth Science and Physics Assessments.  Journal of Science Education and Technology, 1-17. doi: 10.1007/s10956-015-9566-4.

LaDue, N.D. (2015). Help to fight the battle for Earth in US schools. Nature, 519(7542), 131-131. doi: 10.1038/519131a.

LaDue, N.D. and Manning, C.B. (2015). Next Generation Science Standards: A call to action for the geoscience community. GSA Today, 25(2).

LaDue, N.D. and Pacheco, H.A. (2013). Critical Experiences for Geologists: Emergent Themes in Interest Development. Journal of Geoscience Education, 61 (4), 428-436.

LaDue, N.D. and Clark, S.K. (2012). Educator Perspectives on Earth System Science Literacy: Challenges and Priorities. Journal of Geoscience Education, 60, 372-383.

Wysession, M.E., LaDue, N., Budd, D.A., Campbell, K., Conklin, M., Kappel, E., Lewis, G., Raynolds, R., Ridkey, R.W., Ross, R.M., Taber, J., Tewksbury, B. and Tuddenham, P. (2012). Developing and Applying a Set of Earth Science Literacy Principles. Journal of Geoscience Education, 60(2), 95-99.

Hambrick, D.Z., Libarkin, J., Petcovic, H.L., Baker, K.M., Elkins, J., Callahan, C.N., Turner, S.P., Rench, T.A. and LaDue, N.D. (2012). A test of the circumvention-of-limits hypothesis in scientific problem solving: The case of geological bedrock mapping. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 141(2): 397-403.


  • GEOL 401 Clinical High School Experience in Earth and Space Science
  • GEOL 482 Transition to Professional Science Teaching
  • GEOL 483 Interdisciplinary Teaching of Science in Secondary Education
  • GEOL 495 Methods in Teaching Earth and Space Science

Assistant Professor
Geoscience Education, Spatial Thinking, K-12 Teacher Education

Director of Earth and Space Science Educator Licensure

302C Davis Hall

Visualization and Geoscience Education Research Lab


Ph.D., Geological Sciences, Michigan State University, 2013
M.A.T., Secondary Science Teaching, Cornell University, 2001
B.S., Geology, University at Albany (SUNY), 1999

Contact Us

Geology and Environmental Geosciences
Davis Hall 312

815-753-1943 (tel)
815-753-1945 (fax)