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Flywheels Propel Virtual Academy Students Into Engineering Concepts

Hausler Family
The Hausler family including their two elementary school aged boys work together on building their Crunchlabs kits. Photos by Peter Day
By Peter Day
LVUSD Social Media
Whether remote or in-person, students in Mary Eller and Cindy Lazenby’s Virtual Academy classes get excited when they have an opportunity to learn by doing. 
On Wednesday, January 10th, during the weekly “lab day” lesson, students put together a disc launcher kit to learn how flywheels work. The “build box STEM toy” kits are produced by the San Francisco Bay-area CrunchLabs and the company’s figurehead, self-proclaimed “enginerd” and former NASA engineer Mark Rober.
“We’d like to plant a seed in students for becoming an engineer,” Mrs. Eller said.
The lesson began with elementary school teacher Mrs. Eller, who shares Virtual Academy teaching duties with middle-high school teacher Cindy Lazenby, playing a video of Rober showing students how to assemble their kits. Each kit comes with an instruction booklet and easy-to-assemble items. The centerpiece of the kit is a flywheel that pushes out a tiny Frisbee-like disc, which is triggered with the help of three rubber bands and levers. A flywheel, students learned, is a revolving wheel used to increase the momentum of a machine, in this case the disc launcher.
“With the Frisbee there’s some really juicy physics involved,” Rober said in his video.
Austin target
Austin takes aim
Austin Hausler takes aim at a target after completing his flywheel kit.
Family Events
The Virtual Academy’s in-person learning events are family affairs with parents helping with hands-on projects. The first student to complete his disc launcher project was Austin Housler, who jumped into action, repeatedly shooting his discs at one of several targets Mrs. Eller had set up. Soon other students were bringing their completed disc launchers up to the target areas and the classroom was abuzz with mini disc-flying activity.
The Lucerne Valley Unified School District’s Virtual Academy started as an option after the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020. Located at the southern end of the Lucerne Valley High School campus adjacent to the school’s sports field, the Virtual Academy continues four years later and offers 50-60 students an opportunity to learn mostly from home at a more individualized pace. Some high school students have graduated early through the Virtual Academy.
Gutierrez brother
Older brother Jesse Gutierrez helps his younger sister Madelynn with her project.
Sustainable City
A small group of Virtual Academy students will soon begin working each week on a competitive sustainable city model. On March 9th, the team will be heading to Granite Hills High School to the annual Mojave Environmental Educational Consortium (MEEC) MakerFaire, which attracts STEM students from around the region. 
The Lucerne Valley USD has grown from less than 700 students in 2016 to its current enrollment of 1,100 students in 2024. 
Peter Day writes content for the Lucerne Valley USD’s web and social media pages. He can be reached at [email protected].
Mary Eller
Teacher Mary Eller explains the project as teacher Cindy Lazenby looks on (left).
Annabelle Abernathy takes aim with her disc launcher.
Virtual Academy students test their new disc launchers.