Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Griffith Jones

Passionate. Thoughtful. Caring. These are just some ways you can describe Griffith Jones, a clinical associate professor in science education at the UF College of Education. He is someone who has devoted his life to teaching science and spreading awareness about driver safety.

Jones’ own education began at a small liberal arts college known as Florida Southern about two hours south of Gainesville. There he studied biology and minored in chemistry, but it was his graduate studies that would lead him to becoming a teacher. At UF he got his Master’s in Science Education, and eventually his Ph.D. in the same field of study.

“In between the masters and the Ph.D. there was quite a few years of classroom teaching,” Jones told us. And quite a few years it was, twenty, to be exact that he worked at P.K. Yonge, a developmental research public school affiliated with UF that serves students from kindergarten to 12th grade.

There he spent his time divided between teaching high school physics and co-teaching elementary students about science in a special hands-on lab along with their classroom teachers.

“It was a groundbreaking approach, something that P.K. Yonge is known for,” he said.

But it was really the tragedies involving his high school students that got him interested in highway safety.

“Some of my students were lost to car crashes,” Jones said. “During Christmas break, one was up north and hit the ice. Others were more typical, where they were out during homecoming or prom and riding in cars with other teenagers. Getting up on Sunday morning and reading the paper… It’s just like ‘oh my god those were my kids’. And it happened several times.”

It was then that he decided that he was going to try to make a difference in his own classroom. And not long after, fate came knocking on his door in the form of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) who were trying to do the exact same thing.

“The Institute wanted to try and approach highway safety through the science classroom instead of just through drivers education,” he explained. “The hope was that it would make more sense and would be more appealing to the high school students if you approached it academically instead of through a scare tactic.”

But why not in drivers education, where students were learning the skills to drive in the first place? Jones gave a very interesting reason: “I had done research on driver’s education for my dissertation. There was a key study done in the Atlanta area that showed that it did nothing to reduce the crash risk for teenagers. It did improve their driving skills, but not the crash risk. And that shows just how many uncontrolled variables there are with teenagers and driving.”

Indeed, even before distractions of cell phones there were all the traditional things such as putting on makeup, fiddling with the radio, talking to someone in the backseat, and the list goes on.

And so, “…The Institute wanted to create some kind of science education video that could be shown in the high school classroom that would show them that you can’t argue with the laws of physics when driving,” he said.

Change knowledge, attitude, and behavior in the automobile. A lot to ask, but worth a try.

In 2000, IIHS released the first video “Understanding Car Crashes: It’s Basic Physics” with Jones as the host. In the 22-minute video he explains the concepts of inertia, the relationship between crash forces and inertia, momentum and impulse, and a lot more using a test track and vehicle crash tests. It immediately took off and has since been viewed by over one million High school students across the United States. Though intended for 9th and 10th graders, it was been used across kindergarten through the 12th grade system for educational purposes. In addition to the video, Jones wrote an activity guide to go along with the video for teachers to use in the classroom that went in the package sold to schools and was available online.
However, there was no profit sought or gained from this endeavor. “It’s all non-profit. I don’t get any royalties from it. They’re a research organization supported by the insurance industry,” he said.

The profit made from sales went directly to IIHS to recover its cost of production. In addition, the activity guide became the highest downloaded resource on their website.

In 2008, IIHS and Jones put out a sequel: “Understanding Car Crashes: When Physics Meets Biology”.

“We wanted to do another film on what happens to the human body during a crash,” he said. “”We wanted to teach students about the vital connections between science, technology, medicine, mathematics, engineering, and teen crash safety. Most teenagers don’t really understand how science, engineering, and technology can determine the difference between surviving and dying in a car crash. However, we don’t try to tell students what to do or scare them. Rather, we try to teach them how to think by asking them key questions about how race car drivers often survive violent crashes, or how driver’s bodies experience three collisions in a single crash.”

In 2010, the first video was put on YouTube for free distribution. The second followed in 2014. Despite being happy about the greater visibility, he thinks it does take away from some of the educational value.

“They [the teachers] don’t get all the teaching activities that go along with it,” Jones said. “They don’t know there’s materials and resources that they can use for background knowledge in case the teacher doesn’t understand a certain concept. They’ll show it once from beginning to end, and it doesn’t let the students thoroughly process what’s going on.”

Then why aren’t the links to the resources on the video? At one time they were, but unfortunately too many kids ended up cheating on their assignments and so IIHS took it down.

Jones is currently working with IIHS to create an educational section on their site that will allow teachers and students to view the resources correctly- from an education standpoint. The video can still be watched in full, but the site will allow a place where you can watch a clip on a specific topic, along with recommended activities and assessments.

The activity guides are currently available on Dr. Jones’ website.

To learn more about IIHS, check out their new video and website.

If you’d like to contact Dr. Jones directly:

Griff Jones, Ph.D. | Clinical Associate Professor in Science Education
Entrepreneurship Faculty Fellow – UF Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation
STEM TIPS – Director and Principle Investigator
University of Florida| School of Teaching and Learning
PO Box 117048 | 2403 Norman Hall, Gainesville, FL 32611
Office: 352.273.4161 | Email: gjones@coe.ufl.edu
Web: http://education.ufl.edu/gjones/