The blond head of Matthew Sieber and the dark head of Phi Thanh almost touch as they bend over the Apple computer keyboard in the corner of the classroom. Sieber enters a simple trigonometric equation, and both students stare intently as a luminous, yellow line traces the function's scalloped shape on the screen.
Meanwhile, their trigonometry classmates here at Prospect High School work on problems, talk quietly, or try to attract the attention of their teacher, Polly Tamura, who moves about the room answering questions.
This is just one example of how computers are being used to teach mathematics and science here in Silicon Valley. Prospect High has been using them for four years now, making it a pioneer in this effort.
''We've gotten most of our stumbling over with,'' says the school's computer coordinator, Alice Mitchell. Despite all the debate over computers in the classroom, the experience here suggests that these machines can play a positive role in math and science instruction at the high school level.
Today, Prospect's computers are put to all sorts of uses. They provide visual aids to supplement teachers' lectures. In remedial classes, they drill students in basic math skills. Computer simulations mimic classical physics experiments and reinforce what students learn in the laboratory. And programming courses are used not only to teach about computers, but to reinforce basic skills in math, science, and other subjects.
The school has clearly benefited from its strategic location in the microcomputer industry heartland. Last year it received a grant of $55,000 worth of computer equipment and programs from the Hewlett-Packard Company. But what has been achieved here has come primarily from the dedicated efforts of educators like Mrs. Mitchell and Mrs. Tamura.
Mrs. Tamura's students are just being introduced to trigonometry and, in some cases, computers.