Siamo felici di essere entrati in contatto con Valeria Cagnina: maker, blogger e giovanissima insegnante di robotica.



[Domandando a Valeria] Ti descrivi anche come “un Whynotter, non uno Yesbutter”, cosa intendi con queste due espressioni?

Il mio motto è “Sono un Whynotter e non un Yesbutter”, ossia sono un ‘perché no?’ e non un ‘si, ma…’. Mi piace sempre interrogarmi, farmi domande e soprattutto perché non mi faccio fermare da un semplice no o da quelle classiche affermazione fatte dai grandi “è così e basta!” oppure ‘sei troppo piccola’. Mi piace sempre analizzare ogni situazione, per trarne il meglio e davanti agli ostacoli che non si possono disintegrare, look for ways to circumvent them and succeed in achieving what seems impossible.


Tell us something about your educational path, the moments and choices you think are most important

My training path is completely out of standard. From the point of view of the 'normal' school, my relationship with the public school has never been idyllic, but until grade 4 I went to school normally and did the things that interested me outside of school.

I finished the 4th grade and I will graduate as a privatist: despite having excellent grades, the principal told me that if I do not abandon everything I do and I will remain in a ten-day absence like the others, they will not admit me to the exam. Hence the forced choice.

The public school on average is not ready to manage those who do not adapt, who does not flatten,… It hides behind the bureaucracy even when the law says something else. He has never digested my having come to MIT in Boston in 15 years or having founded our school (mine and Francesco Baldassarre, my partner) in 16 years..

The school environment has always been a bit tight to me because it is too far back and completely detached from the real world, I have always found obstruction to my extracurricular activities, on the one hand because of the many absences, on the other for the frustration present in these environments. The fact that I have always had excellent grades was not enough: at the end of the 4th I also passed the admission tests to Politecnico di Milano to the Faculty of Engineering.

The rest of my training however… took place online. Today a computer and a connection are enough to change one's life. I come from a small provincial town where the web is still seen today as the black man, Fortunately, however, at home they always left me free access to the web and device and this allowed me to open up to the world.

The online resources present in the world today are endless and many are free: just think of the courses at MIT in Boston! I've always looked, studied, explored and then practiced what I learned in everyday life, so I learned that my two great passions are robotics and education. From there to put them together, after seeing Boston, the step was short and a year later the company was growing more and more and so Francesco and I became partners.


How the passion for robotics was born?

A 11 years I liked chemistry and computer science. I could experience chemistry a little even in Alexandria, the city where I live, computer science no. Having always had free access to the web, to the network and home computers, unlike my peers, browsing I discovered the Coderdojo Milan and it was love at first sight: every Saturday and Sunday I was brought to Milan for these planning meetings. Lì un giorno scopro una pianta digitale realizzata con Arduino che rilevava la temperatura e ‘appassiva’ se c’era poca umidità, sentiva i suoni e ‘stava male’ se veniva lasciata da sola. Mi sono fatta comprare lo starter kit di Arduino e da sola, davanti ai video di Youtube (all’epoca solo in inglese) ho fatto tutti i progetti iniziali e ho costruito il mio primo robot in grado di muoversi da solo per la stanza ed evitare gli ostacoli. Pensavo fosse una cosa semplice, normale per tutti i ragazzi della mia età, ma ben presto ho scoperto che non era così!


Cosa motiva il tuo hobby e i tuoi sforzi?

Ora la robotica è diventata molto di più di hobby, è un vero e proprio lavoro [Occhiolino]

L’essere appassionati a qualcosa ti permette di arrivare veramente ovunque, perché ogni cosa la vivi in maniera positiva e, se credi veramente in un progetto, non ti fermi mai davanti agli ostacoli, pensi sempre che ‘niente è impossibile’ e una soluzione ‘creativa’ la trovi sempre oltre a non sentire la fatica.

Per me non esiste divisione tra lavoro e vita privata, tutto si incastra e si amalgama: fa’ ciò che ami e non lavorerai un solo giorno della tua vita. Per me è così: ci vuole coraggio, determinazione, voglia di fare e di mettersi in gioco, ma i risultati raggiunti ripagheranno di ogni sforzo.


La fantascienza o altri elementi hanno alimentato questa passione? hai qualche film o libro che ti hanno ispirata?

Film e tv non ne guardo molti. Ho sempre viaggiato fin da quando ero piccola, sia realmente che con la fantasia e continuo a farlo oggi. I viaggi reali sono sicuramente stati di ispirazione tanto nelle parti più tech del mondo come in quelle più povere. Il viaggiare con la fantasia mi aiuta invece molto oggi nella parte ‘non solo tech’ della nostra scuola.

Non c’è quindi cosa particolare a cui mi sono ispirata, ho sempre preso ispirazione da tante persone in giro per il mondo, anche in ambienti diversi, che mi colpivano per qualche motivo.

Se devo pensare a un personaggio famoso mi viene in mente Bebe Vio con la sua determinazione nel superare tutti gli ostacoli o a Luca Parmitano che con la sua tenacia ha raggiunto la stazione spaziale. But I also like to be inspired by people closest to me, like my rhythmic gymnastics coach who taught me the 'Forbidden to say I can't do it'And above all not to give up.


How your school was born? to whom it is addressed?

A 15 years I was at MIT in Boston as a Senior Tester in the project Duckietown.

I spent the whole summer in Boston to build an autonomous robot that can move around a miniature city and thanks to its camera read road signs, traffic lights, avoid pedestrians and other vehicles, stop at intersections. By building the robot, I had to simplify the tutorials at the university level and make them accessible even to high school kids.

Obviously in 3 months at MIT I toured many departments, i met people, ho fatto domande,... but above all there I discovered that the greatest brains of the earth, they do the hardest things we can imagine, but always having a lot of fun. So I came full circle with what I lived at school and I found the missing link: I understand that education can be fun and can be learned by playing.

As soon as I returned to Italy I started giving simple robotics lessons to some children following this method that was forming more and more in my head. In a very short time the requests have increased exponentially and a 16 years I opened my robotics school. This school today is getting bigger and bigger, I have a team of about ten teachers who help us and a partner, Francesco, che ha lasciato il suo lavoro a tempo indeterminato per inseguire le sue passioni. La nostra scuola si rivolge a bambini a partire dai 3 anni fino ad arrivare a ragazzi, adulti, insegnanti (con corsi certificati MIUR) e aziende e manager in ogni parte del mondo. Tutte le nostre attività possono essere svolte sia in italiano che in inglese.


Normalmente si associa la programmazione a qualcosa di difficile o noioso, cosa risponderesti a chi nutre questi dubbi?

Ogni cosa può essere noiosa o divertente, alienante o coinvolgente, dipende sempre tutto da chi te la insegna e soprattutto dal come ti viene trasmessa.

La programmazione, la robotica come mille altri campi se fatti in maniera standard su un banco di scuola con un professore che spiega formule e numeri sono noiosissime, but if done with our method, playing, having fun, without lectures, but by letting the people find out directly Dreamers (participants in our activities) every new skill, everything becomes easier and more fun. Also keep in mind that we don't want to broadcast robotics and coding: we use robotics, which is our passion, to convey a different approach to the world e entice Dreamers to discover, cultivate and pursue their passions. This is the main thing!


it is a path that can involve everyone, regardless of age or gender?

Of course! Robotics and programming can begin at any age, by children and adults e, even if in many (and too many parents!) they think otherwise, they are not activities only for males! Anyone can venture into this world and find out what they like best. We must never be stopped by the classic typical Italian stereotypes to which we are subjected every day. Everyone has what it takes to pursue their passions and do what they want with their life. Don't be stopped by those around you and tell you otherwise! Always remember that nothing is impossible!


From the website it is also possible to find the 10 rules, there is some that you feel you can recommend more than others?

Obviously the most important rule is the first "Nothing is impossible", with this conviction, any goal can be achieved, but above all, believing this allows you to dream bigger and bigger! We forbid the Dreamers phrases like 'I can't do it' or 'I'm not able'. We teach them to say: I still have to learn. I can't do it it's just a mental block to get us to give up!

Each rule is then fundamental and all together form a 360 degrees the philosophy of our school and allow us to be completely different, with an educational method that focuses on Dreamers and play.


Two skills in particular emerge from your training and interventions, English and programming.

Skills that in today's world are becoming more and more central: what active part can your peers have, parents and the school to help enhance these aspects?

The fundamental part for parents and school is that of convey the importance of using technology without fear. In this way both the hard skills necessary for the world of work are acquired in a natural way, both the soft skills that will allow a future as a protagonist. English, on the other hand, is now an essential must that anyone, everywhere in the world, must know as a native speaker. We live in a world where you don't just work in your own small context, but with the world ... knowing English allows you to have more possibilities, to access more opportunities, to confront and contaminate you… Our four clichés that you learn at school are not enough!


School was a step, what are the next plans for the future?

Obviously the steps, projects and dreams are many, both short and long term!

Francesco and I immediately (already starting from the beginning of next year) we plan to create one Ambassador network, people who want to embrace our philosophy of school and education and replicate the courses with our educational method in the different Italian realities, especially in the small provincial realities where the opportunities are fewer. We would like to spread ours like wildfire 10 rules to overturn education as we know it today.

In the medium and long term the idea, even more ambitious, is to create, within the company, a real research and development department to design and build robotic instruments designed ad hoc for our activities and which are obviously child-friendly.


The media or associations (including ours) how they can contribute to your project?

Through the only way innovation is possible, the real one: through contagion. It doesn't matter if online or offline: let's talk about what's happening in Boston and beyond, we say that education can be fun and that there is nothing more beautiful than learning all your life. We spread ours 10 rules, contact us for events, laboratories, corsi e incontri dove arriviamo con i nostri speech motivazionali a raccontare queste cose o a far provare e toccare con mano il learn by doing e soprattutto, credendo sempre che niente è impossibile. Con impegno, determinazione e duro lavoro si arriva dove si vuole, ricordandovi sempre che solo sul dizionario successo viene prima di sudore!


Complimenti per la grinta e auguri per il vostro progetto!

[also for the work I am doing on the perception of sounds and the understanding of words]