The innovation and success don’t end there. Seven students in 2018 are working on real PhD research at a local university and two students from previous years will be co-authors for studies to be published in peer-reviewed academic journals.

Enter the Delorean Project at Glasshouse Christian College (GCC), a K-12 school in Queensland. It’s created more than 40 student-driven startups. Each May, teams of students take part in a ‘Shark Tank’ event, pitching their startup ideas to a panel of entrepreneurs to gain funding and/or mentoring, too.

Founder of the program is Rob Steffler, GCC’s Dean of Studies. He worked with six passionate teacher facilitators to launch the project for Year 10 students in 2016. It’s grown from there to include primary and middle years in different ways.

Steffler spoke about it at the EduTECH conference in June.

“It’s been rewarding to see the growth of so many students over the year as they have the opportunity to explicitly develop the ‘backpack’ of skills and capabilities they can apply to any area of their life in the future,” he said.

The spark? A timetabling dilemma and a mentor challenge. He had to do something outside of the box to give students serious control of their learning and more than just a grade for a subject or assignment.

“I wanted to provide an opportunity within curriculum time for student-negotiated learning projects that were multi-disciplinary, collaborative, focused on 21st-century skill acquisition and resulted in a genuine contribution to the world,” he added.

So why not hook into the Back to the Future movie series, he thought.

“The [Delorean] car is so cool. We grew up with it. The narrative was great – crazy scientist invents a time machine that runs on food scraps.”

Through the school community network, they found a Delorean owner willing to bring it to the school.

“There’s nothing like sitting in a real Delorean to allow the kids to engage in the story behind Back to the Future and relate it to their own journey,” Steffler said.

And this is where it gets even more interesting. With his team, he mapped the general capabilities in the Australian curriculum. The project hones in on 12 skills. The challenge? How to effectively appraise those.

This is how it works: into a room go 90 students and six teachers for the subject that runs all day, every Wednesday, for the entire year.

They explicitly teach and develop entrepreneurial mindsets, and then facilitate student teams to solve real world problems and practice applying those mindsets.

They tackle social justice or environmental issues, creating commercial products or services to developing programs encouraging and supporting positive wellbeing.

Students and teachers use Ausidentities, a Sunshine Coast startup that has “re-skinned” the Myers-Briggs tests into personality narratives using four iconic Australian animals: eagle, dolphin, wombat and kangaroo.

It lets students understand more about themselves, their communication styles and how to collaborate better.

“Ausidentities and the Lean Startup framework, which effectively allows teams to take an idea and make something tangible, were the best decisions we made for the project,” Steffler said.

The Delorean’s benefits have moved beyond just year 10 students. For the middle and primary school years they’ve started to focus on three skills - collaboration, self-reflection and project management – for curriculum design.

“They’re the foundation for our ‘Superclass’ programs in Year 7 English/Humanities, called FUSE (Foundations, Understanding Society & English) and Year 8 Science/Maths/Tech, called STEM, launched in 2017 as a response to our experience in DeLorean in 2016.

“A similar program in Year 6 runs on Friday afternoons focussing on science and technology and these skills are now being embedded into learning in lower and middle primary using platforms like SeeSaw.” 

Steffler’s nudge to teachers: are you disrupting education?

“What we mostly do in schools, we know it’s not working, but continue to do it anyway. Our education system has caused students to place a ceiling on themselves even though they are hugely capable of achieving amazing things as we’ve proven in the DeLorean Project.”