Introducing Justin Boner, Maker Ed’s Program Coordinator

Before joining the Maker Ed team in January, I had enveloped myself in the fascinating study of Greco-Roman antiquity through its languages, drawing insight and inspiration from its complex, disappearing cultures and its many, distinct but overlapping histories. This leap from the library of humanistic scholarship to the hands-on laboratory of making is not as far and wide as one might expect. In fact, I have always felt that language and making mirror one another – each inclines toward newness and possibility, whether in meaning, in material, or both.

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Growing up, my favorite raw material (apart from Playdough) was language – something which many consider to be neither raw nor material. And for as long as I can remember, I aspired to be a wordsmith. Even before being able to read, I built structures (sound or not) out of alphabet-shaped blocks, because I was attracted to the graphic dimensions of the letters. Once I could write, I spent hours upon hours a day developing my own calligraphy, which, I’m afraid, only I could read. And as a teenager, I took these experiments further, crafting concrete poems in order to explore the interplay between meaning and shape.

At that time, I applied to attend a public magnet arts high school, where a robust creative writing curriculum could support and foster my interests. The freedom this arts education afforded me deeply impacted and transformed the way I learned. I was given countless opportunities and endless space to articulate and explore my own interests as well as share and collaborate with my peers. The interactive dimension of this educational environment led to the development of new interests, like drums and music.

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Emboldened by the openness of my high school experience, I chose to attend an alternative liberal arts college, where students design their own individual courses of study and were evaluated in narrative instead of assigned grades. At New College of Florida, I could dive deep into explorations of philosophy, anthropology, and linguistics, all the while developing my writing as an invaluable tool in the creation of new ideas and arguments.

I had the wonderful opportunity to deepen these explorations in the Classics department at UC Berkeley, where I continued to play with ideas and concepts in language. I composed many of my papers literally–that is, by cutting out, rearranging, and taping together sentences and paragraphs into different forms.

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There I also gained a new appreciation of how different learning environments impacted students differently. As I began to teach language and literature classes as a GSI (graduate student instructor), I looked for different ways to break the pedagogical mold and incentivize students to learn from their own will rather than through grades. In one elementary Latin class, I invited students to invent and exhibit original 3D models of the grammar and syntax of a Latin sentence in order to let their imagination have a say in ‘what language looks like.’ In addition, this activity offered welcome reprieve from what had been a memory-intensive moment of traditional, top-down instruction.

I am now thrilled to find a home in an organization that shares this desire (and even sense of urgency) to enliven learning experiences for students and recenter making in their educational environments. As program coordinator, I ensure cohesion across all of Maker Ed’s program and project offerings while building and maintaining relationships with an inspiring community of like-minded makers throughout this continent and the globe. I see my role here as the natural culmination of my many unique experiences in (and commitments to) education, where I continue to play with language (even as I write this) while advocating for interactive and open-ended learning experiences for everyone. 

 

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