Seven-year-old Shannon Dee moved his fingers across the computer keyboard with the skill of a budding pianist.
But instead of hearing beautiful music, Shannon's keyboard playing produced geometric shapeson the computer screen.
Eight long, thin rectangles and six tiny squares appeared, followed by a message telling Shannon he had counted 86 correctly.
But Shannon didn't revel in his triumph. Instead, he moved on to the next number, 27. No problem. A few quick strokes on the keyboard and Shannon had punched out another correct answer: two rectangles and seven squares.
Learning math never seemed like so much fun. And that's exactly what county school officials were banking on when they introduced the new Integrated School Information System to Parole Elementary last January. Parole, Annapolis Middle and Annapolis Senior High schools comprise the county's ISIS pilot program.
County school officials eventually hope to place the ISIS program in all of its schools, but until then, they'll just show off the ones they have.
That's why they invited the press and community leaders Thursday to watch Shannon and other students at Parole Elementary and Annapolis Senior High demonstrate the benefits of a computer system aimed at helping students learn at their own pace.
"This provides them the possibility of working side by side, but they work at their own level, their own pace and their own speed," Parole Elementary first-grade teacher Betty Powell said. "It also keeps them challenged. And slower learners won't have to feel frustrated that they have fallen behind."
The computer at Parole is used mainly to reinforce the reading and math skills that students are learning in the classroom. Students meet two days a week in the computer lab for a total of one hour, reinforcing their skills through problem-solving.
Students were given placement tests in reading and math to determine their learning level. Teachers then tailored individual programs for each student.
To keep up with their students' progress, teachers receive biweekly printouts of their performance.
"The printouts are helpful because they might tell me something I need to be touching on," Powell said.
They also tell her if students need to repeat some of the skills. But the printouts don't tell her how much students love working on computers. Only their smiles and enthusiastic expressions do that.
"Look at them,"Powell said. "They're all focused on what Please see ISIS, they're doing. They're not talking or looking around. This is a lot of fun to them. They want to be entertained. I'm late for a lot of things (in school), but they make sure we're not late for computers."
Shannon was certainly proof that computer learning can be fun. By now he was working on another skill, addition and subtraction. In the computer'sright-hand corner, the problem "10 plus 8 equals ?" appeared. Below it were colorful flowers. A winged insect was hovering above them. Shannon dallied only a split-second before typing his answer, 18. The winged insect immediately flew around in a circle to celebrate Shannon's correct response.
Later, at Annapolis High School, ninth-graderManuel Andrade was working on a math problem of his own.
Was 278 less than 286? But that was only part of the activity. As 19-year-oldAndrade answered each question correctly, a mountain climber moved slowly up a cliff. As he neared the end, the man walked past a ferocious bear and planted a red flag at the top of a pile of rocks. That was Andrade's reward for answering the questions correctly.
He enjoyed the victory so much that he replayed the mountain climber making his final ascent again and again.
Andrade, an English as a Second Language student, smiled shyly when asked if he liked learning on the computer. "Yes, I like it very much," the native Salvadoran said.
Meanwhile, a few computers away, several students from Frank Draper'sadvanced placement history class were answering questions about terrorism and the Civil War.
Draper said his students use the computerto review topics already covered in class. "It takes the concepts and ideas and brings them together," he said.
"This brings back things that you read and should study," junior Bao Do, 16, said.
Added17-year-old junior Susan Gardner: "It also keeps you awake. It's a change from being in the classroom."