Nicole LaDue

Nicole LaDue
Northern Illinois University

2018 Biggs Award for Excellence In Earth Science Teaching

Presented to Nicole LaDue

Citation by Tim Shipley

Nicole is a scientist whose commitment to education is evident in her service, teaching, and research.

Her classrooms are models of engaged learning. She captures student interest and supports those students as they progress. Students describe her as, “passionate,” “dedicated”, “exemplary educator,” and “exceptional mentor.” She shaped the future of many students with her “the sky’s the limit” approach to learning. An Oswego East High School Science teacher felt, “Dr. LaDue’s belief in growth mindset not only challenges her students to push past what they believe they are capable of, but is essential in the inspiration of innovation.” Nicole leverages her own teaching by training teachers in ways that her student-teachers can use and in turn pass on to their students. She works towards equity by actively promoting diversity, including funded efforts to support early career education researchers and develop institutional capacity. She is a leader in her department and institution, developing supports for underrepresented minorities.

Nicole puts her research where her teaching is by, for example, implementing an active response system (aka clickers) to engage students, designing activities to promote spatial thinking on challenging geoscience concepts and processes. She recognized that student errors were providing information about student’s mental models that she could use to adjust her teaching. The spatial data from her classroom has yielded new insights into the cognitive processes that support learning in the geosciences and thus provides the foundation for new interdisciplinary approaches to students learning.

Nicole is an educator and researcher deeply concerned with how to support students developing mental models of the world. She supports learning directly in her students, at an ever-increasing scale as those students go on to teach, and provides the community with research that develops our understanding of the social and cognitive challenges faced by students and how the community might better design education.


top2018 Biggs Award for Excellence In Earth Science Teaching — Response by Nicole LaDue

My Dad was a high school music teacher for 37 years. When I was a snarky adolescent, I once said to my Dad, “How do you do the same thing every day? That’s so boring!” Teenagers think they know everything. If you’re in this room, you know that nothing could be further from the truth. Teaching among the most exciting professions out there! I was inspired to take this path by several enthusiastic teachers, including my Dad. He wanted his students to find the joy in music, regardless of their musical skill. He would act goofy, make corny jokes, and get unreasonably excited when explaining what a composer was thinking when they wrote a piece. He would paint a mental picture of what students hear in the music. And this is what we do in geology, too. We paint a mental picture of what students see in the landscape.

The main person motivating me to study geology was my high school teacher, Steve Kluge. I took my first camping trip to the Catskills during his class. We sat on the same ledge that the Hudson River School painters occupied. He helped us imagine the shallow Devonian ocean depositing the layers we sat upon and the Pleistocene glaciers that carved the vast Hudson River Valley at our feet. Later, Steve became a mentor to me when I started teaching high school earth science. He is a master at scaffolding questions to bring his students along to that “ah-ha” moment. So many New York earth science teachers and students have benefited from his masterful classroom activities.

I started graduate school “part one” in the Cornell Geology Department but graduated from the Masters of Arts in Teaching program. A course on conceptual change introduced me to the science of learning for the first time. It captivated me as much as the swirling migmatites lining Rt.84 near my hometown. When I was exasperated by something in class, instead of answering my question, my professor Deb Trumbull would say with a Yoda-like nod of her head: “Ahhhh, confusion is good!”. So frustrating!! But she was right. Our job as educators is to help students through the sometimes painful process of learning. Deb helped me realize that constructing my own understanding was more effective than giving me the answer.

In graduate school “part 2” at Michigan State, Julie Libarkin and Duncan Sibley pushed me to think about how psychology research can become classroom practice. Their project on analogies forced me to reconsider what I thought I knew about the fundamental physical processes underlying geologic phenomena.

I was privileged to have the opportunities to learn from inspired geoscience educators. I have learned so much from the NY earth science teaching community and mentors like Larry Wood, Jim Ebert, Glenn Dolphin, and Don Haas. I am grateful for such a giving geoscience education community. Thank you for including me in the list of accomplished Biggs Awardees.