WonderLab Learning Resources

WonderLab Learning Resources

WonderLab Learning Resources is a collection of online activities, learning tools, professional learning modules, and videos inspired by renowned National Geographic Explorer and photographer Anand Varma's work.


4 - 12+


Biology, Storytelling, Experiential Learning, Photography

Mark Thiessen / National Geographic Society
Made Possible By
The Burroughs Wellcome Fund

Anand Varma is a National Geographic Explorer, photographer, and founder of WonderLab, an incubator for ideas and talent that offers mentorship and education opportunities for aspiring scientists and storytellers to cultivate their skills in scientific experimentation and expert storytelling. The resources in this collection allow educators and youth “to slow down, observe, find the mystery of things that hide in plain sight and take the time to explore the wonder of our world” as they develop skills and attitudes of an Explorer such as curiosity, empathy, empowerment, problem-solving, and storytelling.

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Learning Package: How to Set Up a "WonderLab"

This learning package introduces considerations for designing a WonderLab to inspire a sense of wonder and awe in science. It encourages deeper focus on slow observation to develop the attitudes, skills, and knowledge that make up the Explorer Mindset using the Wonder Learning Strategies.

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Video: I Wonder: "Create Space for Wonder"

Welcome to WonderLab, a space founded by National Geographic Photographer and Explorer Anand Varma, where young scientists, students, and storytellers can collaborate while exploring their curiosity and embracing the wonder of the natural world. In this video, Anand introduces us to the concepts of wonder and curiosity when he receives his first batch of bobtail squid and flamboyant cuttlefish eggs for his latest photography project.

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Learning Package: Explore and Experiment

Use this learning package to embrace the power of exploring and experimenting within learning spaces to cultivate wonder and develop the attitudes, skills, and knowledge that make up the Explorer Mindset.

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Video: I Wonder: "Explore and Experiment"

In this video, Anand races against the clock to create an aquarium in which the bobtail squid and flamboyant cuttlefish eggs can incubate, using everyday materials and tools. He also takes his first photos of the cephalopod embryos, and shows us that you don't need to do everything perfectly when starting a new project; what matters most is taking the time to explore and experiment to discover what works best.

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Learning Package: Defamiliarize the Familiar

This learning package introduces the wonder learning strategy of Defamiliarizing the Familiar to inspire wonder around familiar things. Learn how to observe familiar things in new ways by using tools to notice differently, making space to observe, and allowing surprise to inspire questions.

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Video: I Wonder: "Defamiliarize the Familiar"

In this video, Anand and his team observe and document the cuttlefish’s behavior. He takes a detailed look at the hunting and mating patterns of a creature that has become familiar to him and his team. This process of defamiliarizing the familiar opens his eyes to just how complex and strange these animals are, and informs the story he will eventually tell.

Woman in the field taking notes
Activity: Seeing a Tree from Multiple Viewpoints

This is an activity to encourage learners to see and contemplate the role of a single tree from many different viewpoints. It helps learners develop empathy as they consider all the connections to a single tree, and how these different viewpoints influence what they notice.

A new honeybee (Apis mellifera) emerges from a brood cell to live a six-week life span, and will forage for food, make honey, and raise the next generation.
Activity: Making the Familiar Unfamiliar

We get used to seeing some things so often that we stop paying attention to them. Photography allows us to capture everyday moments that we can later examine in more detail through reframing the images, zooming in, or using different filters. This activity gets learners excited about noticing familiar things in new ways to reinspire awe and wonder.

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Activity: Meaning-Making Through Slow Motion Video

Slow-motion video allows us to see things in the world that are almost invisible to us because they move too fast. This is an activity allows learners to discover how slow-motion video helps us to see beauty and make sense of science in the world in new ways.

The National Geographic and Rolex Perpetual Planet Amazon Expedition is an extensive science and storytelling journey that spans the entire Amazon River Basin from the Andes to the Atlantic. This two-year exploration of the Amazon leverages local National Geographic Explorers, multiple science disciplines, and photojournalism to illuminate the diversity and connectivity of the people, wildlife, and ecosystems that make up this critical region, and the solutions needed to ensure its protection.
Activity: Take a Wonder Walk

Explorers build knowledge by seeking and researching the connections between humans and their environment. This activity makes space for learners to explore the world around them by giving them time to walk, encouragement to talk, and inspiration to wonder.

Catherine Jafee, National Geographic Grantee, takes notes in the field.
Activity: An Artist's Notebook

An important skill of an Explorer is to document what they notice about the world so they can communicate this information to others. This activity encourages learners to represent their observations through their own drawings.

Hummingbird shakes itself dry.
Learning Tool: What I See... and What I Don't See

This is a general tool invites learners to make their thinking visible by constructing a representation, or model, of a phenomenon.The pictures they draw and the explanations they include will make their prior knowledge explicit. When they revisit their models, learners can see how their thinking has changed.

A man inspecting the contents of a lab cup
Learning Tool: How I Wonder... Through Different Viewpoints

This tool encourages learners to slow down and see one thing using multiple points of view. They become aware of details that they might not have seen at first glance, pay attention to the object and the interactions between that object and its surroundings.

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Learning Tool: Defamiliarizing the Familiar: Which One is Unique?

This tool encourages learners to contrast things that have some similarities and some differences. By drawing comparisons between four items, the goal is that learners will attend to details in new ways and justify how and why they see something different, or unique, in one of the familiar items.

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Learning Tool: Multimodal Storytelling

This tool encourages learners to share a story using different modes of communication. Engaging in multimodal storytelling can help Explorers (and/or learners) stimulate the imagination and be more expansive and creative in the ways they communicate their discoveries and work to different audiences.

A hummingbird's forked tongue licking artificial nectar.
Learning Tool: I Wonder... "Should We?"... I Investigate

Explorers are curious and wonder about the world. They do not stop at their wonders. They allow their wonders to be shaped into questions that they want to investigate or questions that might not have a clear answer, but are worthy of exploring from multiple viewpoints. This tool helps learners extend their wonderings into complex decisions or investigations.

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
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Rights Clearance
Jean Cantu, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

April 24, 2024

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