Whether the gleam in their eyes or the bewilderment on their faces, one could tell that children of all ages enjoyed the 12th annual Bettendorf STEM Expo Jan. 27 at Bettendorf Middle School.

The STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math, event, is a hands-on display of 50 exhibits featuring everything from experiments and animals to robotics and meteorology.

“It's entertaining for kids, no better way to learn something than through hands-on,” said Whitney Smith-Bringolf of Bettendorf, who brought her daughter, Erin Bringolf, 9.

“I like learning about space,” Erin said, pointing to the Discovery Dome, a walk-in bubble tent teaching kids about space.

Throughout the school, exhibits were in the gym, cafeteria and in classrooms. Children learned about forensics, chemical reactions, viewed birds of prey, learned about nuclear energy, renewable energy, tropical rainforests, virtual anatomy, brains and the nervous system.

Grant Gaura, 12, from Boy Scout Troop 89 of Bettendorf, was among members of his troop manning the Stomp Rocket table.

“It is about Newton's third law; for every action there is an opposite reaction,” Grant said.

They used two-liter soda bottles, connected to tubes with a paper rocket at the end of the tube. When you jump on the bottle filled with air, the rocket is released in the air.

“Fifteen to 20 feet is a good one,” Grant said of the flight.

“This is a good example of leadership,” said his father, Chris Gaura, the scout leader. “They can be examples and pass on what they have learned to others. These are the things they have learned since Cub Scouts.”

The expo was founded by Betsy Romano of Bettendorf 12 years ago.

“This may be the best one ever,” she said, referring to the large crowds and 50 exhibits.

In the veterinary science room, children could interact with live dogs, snakes, turtles, guinea pigs, lizards and birds.

“I like a lot of animals. I want to be a veterinarian or something like that,” said Destiny Borland, 9, of Bettendorf.

Her friend, Jenna Farwell, also 9 of Bettendorf, loved the display of fossils.

“The fossils, you get to match them up,” she said. “You get to look at them and touch them.”

“I really liked the reptile area,” said Alex Cullum, 12, of Davenport.

Jackson Callahan, 18, graduated last year from Bettendorf High School. He was helping run a table of the robotics team from the middle and high schools.

He is a freshman at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, majoring in engineering inspired by his involvement in robotics in Bettendorf.

“We try to bring new students out, to tell them, 'hey, you can do this,' ” he said.

The expo also had special guest Dr. Ryan Goff, the Bettendorf Community Schools Foundation’s 2018 Science Scholar. He is a research and development manager at Endologix Inc., a medical device company focused on the treatment of aortic diseases. He also is a 2005 graduate of Bettendorf High School.

“Any time you can give back to the community,” he said. “It is a great honor to help out Bettendorf schools when I can.”