Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Curriculum and Instruction (PhD)

Degree Level



Curriculum and Instruction


William McComas

Committee Member

Cathy Wissehr

Second Committee Member

Stephen R Burgin


Academic competitions;Science competitions;Science education;Science literacy;Science Olympiad


Science Olympiad (SO) is a team-oriented STEM competition that offers students the opportunity to participate in a wide range of STEM topics attracting students with varying STEM interests. This hermeneutic phenomenological cross-case study explored the experiences of 12 SO coaches with experience coaching middle school and/or high school teams. Educational settings for the teams included public schools, private schools, and homeschool. Coaches were asked to fill out an open-ended questionnaire about their SO coaching experiences. Based upon questionnaire responses, coaches were invited to participate in follow-up interviews. The experiences related by the coaches in the interviews were written as case studies and a cross-case analysis was conducted to reveal patterns and themes across the coaches’ experiences. Themes explored encompassed coaches’ views on student benefits as well as personal benefits to the coaches; challenges coaches perceived students overcoming as well as challenges experiences for the coaches; and the amount and type of support coaches have discovered they and their students need in order to have a positive SO experience. Coaches indicated that they found coaching an SO team to be enjoyable or rewarding because they saw students having fun while learning. Some coaches also stated that SO allowed students to gain knowledge (literacy) not available to them in the classroom setting and they viewed this knowledge to be especially valuable for the student pursuing a STEM career in the future. Key findings of coaches’ perspectives included that student participation in SO confirmed STEM career choice, assisted in STEM skills acquisition, and encouraged several areas of personal development. Some coaches reported their own personal knowledge and skill growth as benefits to coaching. Some key findings support other related research. The perspective that competition offers opportunities for personal growth coincides with studies conducted by Wirt (2011) and Schmidt (2014). Examples given by coaches of STEM knowledge acquisition as a part of preparation for competition match with some literacy goals stated in the NGSS (NRC, 2013) document and the general literacy idea promoted by UNESCO (2017) that literacy exists along a continuum where individuals find the level of competency needed for their personal interests and career goals. Coaches’ examples of students enjoying and benefiting from competition support the findings of studies by Campbell and Walberg (2011), Wirt (2011), Ozturk & Debelak (2008), Abernathy and Vineyard (2001), and Verhoeff (1997). Many coaches discussed the importance of mentors for student success in SO competition. The descriptions of the guidance given by the mentors’ support statements by Ozturk and Debelak (2008) claiming that an adult guide is necessary for students to glean the maximum benefits from participation in competitions. Most of the coaches in this study were eager to share their experiences and offer advice to anyone interested in coaching an SO team. Included in the findings of this study are recommended strategies for acquiring funding, recruitment of team members, team structuring, team building, and promoting team recognition and publicity for achievements.