RJR Nabisco is betting its cookies that Orem High School can come up with a better way to teach math and science.

On Tuesday the company awarded Orem High a $749,500 grant to develop computer software to aid math and science instruction.Orem High is one of 15 schools in the United States to receive a three-year grant from RJR Nabisco Foundation's Next Century Schools program. The program's goal is to stem illiteracy, dropout rates and declining test scores through radical changes at the front lines of education.

"We keep trying to make things better when we should be making them different," said Louis V. Gerstner Jr., chairman and chief executive officer of RJR Nabisco Inc., in a prepared statement. "Why tinker with a system that is just not equipped to meet a changing world? We should be reinventing the system."

Gerstner describes the rationale for the Next Century Schools programs as the Noah Principle at work: "No more awards for predicting rain, only awards for building arks."

Orem High competed with more than 1,600 applicants for the grants, including 10 schools in Utah. The school also has a $35,000 grant from Commodore (computer company) of Pennsylvania and $300,000 worth of donated equipment and building space from US WEST to use for the project.

Principal John Childs wasn't surprised at the news Tuesday.

"We had a well-written proposal," he said. "The surprise was when we made the first cut."

Orem's proposal is to develop a curriculum for geometry and algebra II that incorporates the use of computers, video presentations and texts. The two math subjects will be integrated with chemistry and English instruction.

The idea for the approach is the brainchild of Ed E. Green, a professor of instructional science at Brigham Young University. Green is in Las Vegas attending a conference and was not available for comment.

In 1987, Green developed a similar method of teaching beginning algebra while teaching a math class at Orem High, Childs said.

In some cases, students using the program gained between 56 percent and 90 percent in unit test scores.

Green will serve as director of Orem High's project. The school also will hire several BYU professors as consultants and will select as many as four faculty members to work on development and implementation of the program.

It will take approximately one year to develop a curriculum that can be put to use in classes at Orem High, Childs said.

The Next Century Schools grants give priority to programs that can be continued and expanded within school districts or replicated across the state or nation.

If Orem High's program is eventually marketed, the school, the educators involved in the project and RJR Nabisco will each receive a percentage of royalties from sales.