Below Deck: Take Part In The Great Lawnmower Challenge For High School & Middle School Students


Most cadets have had plenty of experience mowing lawns.  Some even made it their summer job at one time or another.  They know how to fill the lawnmower with gasoline, start it, operate it, and clean it.  

During Sea Term 2023, every 4/C cadet will do something with a Briggs & Stratton lawn mower engine that they problem have never even considered.  They will work as a team to take it apart…and then reassemble it.  Does that sound like a challenge?  It certainly will be!

Assistant Professor Don Trudeau worked with Briggs & Stratton to develop the program five years ago.  He explained that the purpose of the lab is to introduce the cadets to internal combustion engines and the use of hand tools.   Many cadets have little or not experience with engines and some have not used hand tools. 

students taking apart lawnmower engine

Before the cadets get their hands on the engines, they spend the morning in the classroom going over the concept of internal combustion engines.  Soon the cadets can explain each step in the four-stroke system: intake stroke, compression stroke, power stroke, and exhaust stroke.  They are comfortable using new vocabulary, including carburetor, cylinder head, piston, ignite, voltage, intake valve, exhaust valve, and compression strokes.

After lunch, it’s time for cadets to get up close and personal with the lawnmower engine.  As the parts are removed, cadets are welcome to take step-by-step photos with their phones.  1/C cadet rates are on hand to guide and advise the teams, if needed. As the rates circulate from one group to the next, they’ll take time to explain the function of key parts.  There is also a diagram and a manual to refer to.  Assistant Professor Trudeau explained that the process of dismantling and reassembling the engine takes three to four hours to complete.

lawnmower manuel

When the cadets wrap up their engineering rotation, they will have an exam that covers all the concepts taught.  Ten of the questions will focus on the Briggs & Stratton engine. 

Assistant Professor Trudeau was excited to learn that some high school classes participating in the Follow The Voyage-Share The Experience Program plan to take part in The Great Lawnmower Challenge at school while other will be taking part at home with the assistance of an adult.  Some middle school teachers plan to invite community members into their classrooms to demonstrate how a lawnmower engine can be taken apart and reassembled. 

When asked if he had any advice for classes participating in The Great Lawnmower Challenge, Assistant Professor Trudeau said, “They really should have some classroom time to understand how the combustion process works, so when they are dismantling the engine, students can see how the piston moving up and down brings air and fuel in and them compresses the mixture having a sparkplug ignite the mixture and them the expanding gases pushing down on the piston creating the power.   If they are using the home lawnmower them it will get a little messy having to drain the engine of oil and gas.  But it is very doable.”

Will your class or home be participating in The Great Lawnmower Challenge

Teachers & Parents: We want to hear from you!  Please send photos to:  We also hope that you’ll invite students to take some time to write about what they learned, describe the challenges that they faced, and explain how they overcame the challenges.  We’d love to share photos and student work samples here.  Please include your name, school name, address, and grade level in the body of your email.  To help make emails easier to keep track of, please include Lawnmower Challenge in the subject line of the email.

NOTE: Students should NOT attempt to take apart a lawnmower challenge without the assistance of a teacher or parent.