It's not your typical science fair.
Elgin Area School District U-46's upcoming STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Expo will give students a chance to explore their natural curiosities, whether it's building an electric car or developing a new kind of fertilizer.
Nearly 1,300 students participated in last year's expo.
"It's a pretty large event, and it's grown," said Marc Hans, U-46 coordinator of K-12 Science and Planetarium.
The fifth annual STEM Expo is April 5 at South Elgin High School, 760 E. Main St.
"It's a judged, but a noncompetitive event," Hans said. "Everybody gets an opportunity to be viewed and present. They really get an idea of what it's like to be in this field. That's one way it's different from your general science fair. Another way it's different is that we really wanted it to be an inclusive event. As long as it fits into one of those areas of STEM, we're going to have them in."
The first event to promote the expo is 6 to 8:15 p.m. Thursday at Gail Borden Library, 270 N. Grove Ave., Elgin.
For the first time, kickoff events are planned in several communities next week: 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 28 at Poplar Creek Library, 1405 S. Park Ave., Streamwood; Jan. 29 at Gail Borden Library Rakow Branch, 2751 W. Bowes Road, Elgin; and Jan. 30 at Bartlett Public Library, 800 S. Bartlett Road.
"We're really trying to build the idea that learning doesn't just take place in the classroom. It really takes place in the community," Hans said.
He added, the goal of the events is getting students from kindergarten through 12th grade excited about creating innovative projects for the expo. Students will be able to work with cutting-edge technologies and futuristic robots, experiment with next-generation science, examine fossils of prehistoric creatures, check out live chemistry and physics demonstrations, and explore different aspects of STEM education while exchanging innovative ideas with friends. Students can pick up their STEM Expo information packet at the events and start planning projects.
A submission deadline has not yet been determined. After Thursday, students will be able to register for the expo online at u46stemexpo.com.
"Because this is a kindergarten through high school (expo), we really see such a wide range of projects," Hans said. "It really does run the gamut."
Earlier grades present their projects first at the expo so they can walk through and see the other projects by students in higher grades.
"Students will see the progression of projects and the progression of topics as they get older," Hans said. "We want them to realize that the skills or the things that they learn is really what makes the world go around."
Students will get a chance to interact with 18 STEM exhibitors during the kickoff events, engage in hands-on activities and interactive experiments, and take home giveaways. Among the exhibitors are Discovery Education, which will display its interactive online science techbook; Ward's Science; Fisher Scientific; Northern Illinois University Office of STEM Outreach; Elgin Technology Center's Got Robot team; U-46's robotics teams; after-school STEM clubs; and Illinois Science Olympiad students.