How to Set Up a "WonderLab": Engage and Explore

How to Set Up a "WonderLab": Engage and Explore

Learn about WonderLab, a place where Anand Varma, a National Geographic Explorer, explores the mystery of things hidden in plain sight.


4 - 12+


Biology, Storytelling, Experiential Learning, Photography

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The Burroughs Wellcome Fund

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This is part 1 of 3 in the How to Set Up a Wonderlab Learning Package. It is recommended to read these parts in sequential order.

National Geographic Explorers are naturally curious about the world, but it is more than curiosity that drives their joy and excitement in the work. It is the ability to slow down their interactions with phenomena in the world to inspire wonder. Following their sense of wonder allows Explorers to view something with a different perspective, make connections in new ways, stimulate their imaginations, or notice something new and unfamiliar about something that is seemingly familiar. Even with new understandings, this sense of wonder persists and motivates Explorers to stay curious. So how can educators inspire wonder in their learners?

Anything a learner can use their senses to interact with could be something that inspires wonder. It could be a picture, a video, a story, a toy, a song, or observations out in the world. It should be something interesting enough that learners want to explore, puzzling enough that it will inspire questions, but not so confusing that it results in frustration.

National Geographic Explorer, Anand Varma, has been inspired to explore cephalopods. “Cephalopods are a really fascinating group of marine creatures that include octopus, squid, cuttlefish, and nautilus…They're really interesting, because they have some of the most complex behavior on our planet. And they've evolved this complex intelligence completely independently from us.” But to really learn more about cephalopods, Anand wanted to find ways to slow down his observations. In order to do that, he wanted to create a WonderLab that would allow him to photograph and video record cephalopod behavior.

Watch the video, I Wonder: Create Space for Wonder. Pay attention to how Anand and his team interact with each other and the tools and phenomena in the WonderLab to spark curiosity and pose questions about what to explore. Use the following prompts to reflect on the video.

  1. What are Anand’s goals for the WonderLab?
  2. What kinds of things did he have to consider in designing the WonderLab?
  3. Who is Anand working with in designing the WonderLab? Why are these collaborations important?
  4. What are other ways Anand could explore cephalopods if he did not have the WonderLab? Would he be able to “slow down” his observations in the same way? Why or why not?
  5. What would you be interested in having your learners “slow down” to explore? What would you need to make that happen?


Conijn, J., Rietdijk, W., Broekhof, E., Andre, L., & Schinkel, A. (2021). A theoretical framework and questionnaire for wonder-full education. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 54(3), 423-444.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Elizabeth Wolzak, Director, Learning Innovation, Edu Lab, National Geographic
Heather J. Johnson, Vanderbilt University
Stephanie Hamilton, Education Consultant, Global Inclusive Learning Design Reviewer
Bayan Atari, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

April 3, 2024

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