'A Light to Guide Their Way': Middle-Schoolers Design Custom Night-Lights for Kindergarteners

Picture: Students from Irving Elementary School and Julian Middle School

Seventh-graders from Julian Middle School created custom night-lights for kindergarteners at Irving Elementary School as part of their Design class.

With the school year coming to a close, Julian Middle School teacher Adrienne Court assigned her seventh-graders a design challenge with real-world implications in order to keep them engaged. 

“An important part of the design process is working with a client to meet their needs,” Court said. So she found a client—well, 30 eager kindergarten students at Irving Elementary School, in Mr. Blecha and Ms. Moody’s classes. 

The products the seventh-graders would design and build? Night-lights. 

“Understanding the power of photoresistors and transistors is such a critical part of the world of electronics,” Court said. “We are surrounded by technology that utilizes these components, yet rarely do we stop to unpack how these technologies work. A street light or night-light is something that all students are familiar with, but not something they come into class understanding how or why it works.”

Each middle-schooler was assigned to a kindergartener whom they interviewed over video to learn special interests and favorite colors. The student-designers mocked-up four different models to share with their clients for feedback and the kindergarteners got to choose the design they liked best. 

“The most challenging part was transferring what we had learned in class to the physical product–troubleshooting when the design didn't initially work and figuring out how to modify the layout of the circuit so that we could get the lights to turn on in order to deliver a functioning product,” Theo, a student-designer, said.

The seventh-graders worked over several weeks to build their night lights and tweak their designs. They had a hard deadline, May 31, the day they would walk over to Irving to hand-deliver the night-lights to their clients. 

“I enjoyed making my night light because I knew it was what my client wanted, and I wanted what was best for my client,” Evelyn, another student-designer said. “I think the most challenging aspect is soldering the small area on the circuit board. It was hard to make sure that the solder didn't connect when soldering things that are close to each other.” 

In addition to getting their night light done on time, the seventh-graders would also need to make sure their night-lights worked, especially considering some of their clients may be afraid of the dark.

“I wanted to take the time to make sure everything was secure and would hold up for my kindergartner,” she added.

“Kindergarteners might not be the most gentle,” Eli, another student-designer said, “and the light could break way easier if we didn't take the time to secure all the wires.”

In the end, every middle-schooler met their deadline, and every night-light lit up, along with their clients' faces, when they entered the kindergarten classrooms to meet in person for the first time.

The teachers turned out the lights and the kindergarteners beamed as they tested their cat, mermaid and superhero night-lights and showed them off to one another. 

“It matches my shirt!” one Spider-Man clad kindergartener exclaimed.

“I think [the design process] taught me that if mistakes happen you have to find a way to keep going,” Will, a seventh-grader, said. “Since the product I was making was for someone else, I couldn't just say, "Well I tried." I had to problem solve to figure out what was wrong and fix the product until I was able to get it to work.”

“Kindergartners make wonderful clients,” Theo said, “because they love the product no matter who it came from.” 

After the night-lights were safely put away in cubbies, the kindergarten students got to show off something of their own, when they got to read to their new seventh-grade friend. After reading, it was time for snack and off to recess, with the middle-schoolers by their side.