Teens Now is a series by Grace Lee that features teenagers around the world who have inspired others in creative ways.
Last year, Jaeah Kim and Jae Kim, 17-year-old seniors at Hunter College High School in New York realized their science curriculum lacked in-person animal dissections. The realization was heightened during the coronavirus, due to the mandatory quarantine and nationwide school closures.
Hoping to bridge the gap between in-person dissections and school closures, the duo started Oh Worm, an educational organization that posts virtual dissection labs on YouTube.
“Even without COVID-19, there’s a lot of schools that even in a normal year, would not have the resources to do these because they can’t afford to get all the supplies for their students,” Jaeah Kim said. “So, that summer, we started creating these videos. We started with a worm dissection — which is why this organization got its name.”
To help grow their channel, the high schoolers reached out to teachers and professors from all around the country. After they posted their first video explaining a mouse dissection, they started to get dissection requests from educators who wanted to use the videos in their lesson plans.
“Our high school teachers asked us whether we could do a chicken leg dissection because they were covering that in class, so we’ve done that. We’ve also gotten requests from a college in Wyoming for dissections on reproductive organs,” Jae Kim said.
Since its beginning, the channel has amassed more than 2,000 subscribers on the channel. They’ve published more than 50 videos with dissections ranging from a dogfish shark to a cow’s eyeball.
“A lot of biology supply companies that provide these specimens to your school also ship individually. Usually, the shipping costs more than anything,” Jaeah Kim said.
Before filming, Jaeah Kim usually researches how to do the dissection and facts about the specimen to include in the video. For some dissections, they’ve learned how to do them in their past science classes. For others, they do their research online and watch other relevant videos to learn.
“We need to do a lot of research to make sure that we’re doing the procedure effectively and accurately. We would spend around a week researching and writing down the script before we start to get into the scientific things,” Jaeah Kim said.
After filming, Jae Kim does the post-production editing to make sure that the voice-overs are comprehensible and that the visual elements of the video are clear. However, the gratifying component of running the YouTube channel comes after posting the videos.
“I feel proudest when I get individual comments on videos from students saying that ‘this video helped me pass my final exam,’ and so on,” Jaeah Kim said. “Although I really appreciate the schools that are using this resource, I also think it’s really valuable to see individuals saying that this helped them.”
Jae Kim also feels proudest of this organization when individuals comment that they enjoyed watching the videos.
“Although it’s great to hear about people using this as an educational supplement, occasionally we come across people saying that it was fun to watch or entertaining,” Jae Kim said. “I think it’s great that it’s not just for education — some people also find these videos entertaining and interesting.”
Not only has Oh Worm provided the resources that many students and teachers lack in their classrooms, Jaeah and Jae Kim have also discovered new passions and educational opportunities. The duo has done dissections on various sea organisms including sea urchins, mussels and crayfish. Jaeah Kim said her favorite dissection to film has been the sea urchin.
“You never look at a sea urchin and think that they have a fascinating anatomy — their entire organs do two full circles around their body. The way that they’ve adapted to their environment and their unique body type is just fascinating,” Jaeah Kim said.
Jae Kim’s said his favorite organism to dissect is the mussel.
“I think the smaller the organism is, the more interesting they are,” he said. “We like to think of ourselves as the apex of evolution, but if you look at a mussel, they have fibers and produce natural adhesives, which is something that humans haven’t figured out how to do yet.”
Although it takes hours to produce the dissection labs, the high school creators are glad they were able to establish a resource that people all around the world can use both in and out of the classroom.
“I think we’re filling a need that no one has stepped in to fill before. A lot of these teachers and professors email us saying that they really needed this for their class and that they’re grateful that it exists. I’m glad that we were able to step in and be of help to all the teachers and students,” Jaeah Kim said.
Looking toward the future, the duo hopes to expand their team so that they can create more videos and post more resources on their website. Currently, their only team member is a graphic designer who works with them for the thumbnails of the YouTube videos. However, they hope to establish a club at Hunter College High School to get more underclassmen involved.
“Although we’re planning to continue this organization, we’re thinking of incorporating younger students so that our team can grow and they can learn about biology,” Jae Kim said.
Jaeah and Jae Kim are also looking to do more outreach on a broader platform.
“We hope to eventually send small dissection kits to underserved schools so that they can do in-person dissections,” Jaeah Kim said. “We hope to be a resource for students that want to pursue biology in general.”