Interview | David Grey: On A VariQuest for Education Excellence

VariQuest Visual Learning Tools are an integrated suite of products that allow teachers to supplement curriculum and differentiate instruction for visual-spatial learners through creation of large visual aids, interactive manipulatives, cutouts and flashcards. The suite consists of five components: Design Center is the hub of the system—a touch-screen device loaded with more than 1,700 templates for instructional support; from there, one can select shapes, manipulatives and bulletin board collections for use with the Cutout Maker, an electronic die-cut system with scalable electronic dies; Poster Maker is designed to create large visual aids and collaboration tools such as graphic organizers and thinking diagrams; Awards Maker creates flashcards, award plaques and recognition stickers; the Cold Laminator is used to laminate posters and cutouts to make them more durable for hands-on activities. David Grey, vice president and general manager of Varitronics, answers some key questions here, sharing his thoughts on education, the power of visual learning—and his views as a parent.

Victor: Why did the people at Varitronics create these tools? 

David: We observed that teachers needed easier, on-demand tools to supplement their lessons and activities as well as to engage all learners—especially those who respond best to visual and hands-on learning strategies. We had been in the schools for many years with our PosterPrinter product line, and had observed that there was a great need to expand visuals beyond the poster.

Victor: What does the name “VariQuest” mean? 

David: The “quest” part refers to our quest for excellence in education, accommodating learners of all abilities and learning styles, and the “vari” part is a carryover from our company name, Varitronics, but it also stands for the variety of visuals that the solutions provide.

Victor: What are the benefits of VariQuest Visual Learning Tools to schools, districts, states? 

David: We believe that VariQuest Visual Learning Tools can be a difference-maker to improve how instruction is received by students, as they appeal to visual and kinesthetic learners, which is the majority of us. When teachers can capture students’ attention, they achieve, and it shows in assessment data. VariQuest Visual Learning Tools are also of great benefit to teachers, saving them countless hours of time, which allows them to focus on instruction.

Victor: What companies do you compete with? 

David: The VariQuest product offering is unique, so we don’t have direct competitors. There are several other solutions with various pieces of what we offer, but ours is an integrated and complete offering.

Victor: How are the VariQuest tools unique from other similar products/services?

David: We have a fully integrated solution, with thousands of curriculum-based templates, cutouts and standards-aligned content made available through our Learning Modules. As far as our Cutout Maker, the only thing that previously has been available has been the mechanical die-cut systems, which have been available for decades. Our Cutout Maker is an electronic die-cut system with scalable electronic dies – a much easier, more robust solution and a vastly greater efficiency for teachers. With our Poster Maker, it’s unique in that you can create a customized graphic organizer in 70 seconds, and it eliminates the need for costly ink and toner cartridges. The Awards Maker allows schools to create customized award plaques in house rather than from an outside vendor.

Victor: What impact do VariQuest Visual Learning Tools have on student achievement? 

David: By providing teachers and administrators with tools that will enhance their curriculum, we’re appealing to the needs of visual and kinesthetic learners as well as learners who need to be accommodated differently because of a learning disability or English language deficiency.

Victor: When were VariQuest Visual Learning Tools developed? What’s something interesting or relevant about their development history? 

David: We launched them in January 2007. Prior to this time, our PosterPrinter product was being used by thousands of schools nationwide, and we saw the need for additional tools to help teachers and staff create different types of instructional aids for visual and kinesthetic learners, which led to the development of VariQuest Visual Learning Tools as an integrated suite of products to create posters, cutouts, manipulatives, bulletin board collections, award plaques, recognition stickers and flashcards.

Victor: Where did the VariQuest tools originate? Where can you get them now? 

David: The concept of the tools was our idea, which came from observing, in so many schools, the need for an efficient way to create visual learning tools. VariQuest Visual Learning Tools are available through authorized VariQuest dealers across the U.S. You can find a dealer near you at www.variquest.com or by calling us at 1-800-328-0585.

Victor: How much do VariQuest Visual Learning Tools cost? What are the purchasing options? 

David: The investment starts at $2,995, and varies depending on which components and packages are chosen.

Victor: What are some examples of VariQuest Visual Learning Tools in action? 

David: Every school day, teachers and aides are creating classroom visuals with our VariQuest Visual Learning Tools, using graphic organizers and collaborative learning aids to improve teaching and learning. When we go to trade shows, we see what a “fan base” we have. Teachers and administrators share with us how excited they are about the tools. They tell us about how their students are engaged in learning and performing at higher levels. And they tell us about how they’re not spending nights and weekends creating visuals with inefficient tools, which frees up their time to focus on classroom instruction. It’s very gratifying to see the impact our tools have on educators and students alike.

Victor: Who are VariQuest Visual Learning Tools for, and who are they not for? 

David: The VariQuest Visual Learning Tools are specifically designed for K-12 schools.

Victor: What are the VariQuest Learning Modules? 

David: The VariQuest Learning Modules are specific, standards-aligned activities that incorporate the use of the posters, cutouts and awards with lesson plans and activities. Activities use visual and hands-on learning strategies to reinforce basic skills, and provide motivational activities that will supplement the curriculum. We have a dozen of them available right now, and we will continue to add to those. Each Learning Module includes an Activity Guide containing 10 Learning Activities, with strategies for adapting the activities to meet the needs of all learners, and a CD with shapes, fonts and/or collections for use with the VariQuest Cutout Maker.

Victor: Are the Learning Modules aligned with the new Common Core State Standards? 

David: Yes, the Learning Modules are aligned to individual state standards, and the English Language Arts and the Mathematics Learning Modules are also aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Educators can use the free standards alignment tool at http://www.variquest.com/state-standards to find out how the Learning Modules align with their state learning goals.

Victor: How do the VariQuest tools change learning for visual learners? 

David: There are many different ways to improve teaching, and looking at tools that are available, we see wide use of the projector and the interactive whiteboard. These are excellent teaching tools, and VariQuest Visual Learning Tools work very well side by side with them. However, one of the issues with the electronic-type media is that once the presentation is made, the visual goes away. The VariQuest solutions allow educators to create a print-rich learning environment in the classroom, which is very valuable for retention purposes.

Victor: What experiences have you had that helped inform your approach to creating the VariQuest tools? 

David: As the parent of a special-education student, I recognize the importance of having the right resources in place for teachers to meet the needs of individual learners and IEPs. The VariQuest tools can be used to help differentiate instruction, allow for alternative assessments and provide project-based learning experiences for special-education students. I’m also a college adjunct instructor, and I like to make use of the posters in the classroom because I see what a useful tool they are. They grab students’ attention – I’m not just standing up there as a talking head. Engaging, customized visuals make all the difference in how my students receive and retain the curriculum.

Victor: What are some of your thoughts on education these days? 

David: My greatest concern about education is that we tend to look to the past, making use of old teaching methods, when we need more innovation. We need to stop doing things the old ways if we’re going to be successful in meeting the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s learners.

Victor: How do the VariQuest tools address some of your concerns about education? 

David: VariQuest Visual Learning Tools are an innovative solution to help teachers teach and help students learn. They appeal to visual and kinesthetic learning styles, which includes the vast majority of learners. When students are engaged in learning, they will achieve to their highest potential.

Victor: What else would you tell educators or leaders in education about the value of VariQuest Visual Learning Tools? 

David: The important thing we’d like educators to know about VariQuest Visual Learning Tools is that we’re here to support them and to help schools as we continue to evolve and improve the tools in our product offerings. VariQuest is a great investment for improving the way teachers teach and students learn, and will be a tremendous value for many years to come.

Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education? 

David: I’m definitely optimistic. I believe in our teachers and our administrators and their dedication to improving student achievement. I think if we work together, we can all improve education in America.  

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Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to: victor@VictorRivero.com

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