MCCLELLAN, CA - The lesson on division is rolling along when students suddenly hear a voice that sounds vaguely familiar. "It's only math time, boys and girls. Whoa, whoa, whoa."
The voice is teacher Timothy Strauch mimicking Disney's cartoon character Pluto. The former Disney employee is known for eliciting laughs in his fourth grade class at Gateway's Community Outreach Academy, a charter school located at McClellan Air Park in Sacramento County.
"I was a character performer," Strauch said. "The interactions I had with kids on a daily basis just made it easier for me to connect with the smaller kids and get their attention."
The technique still works today for Strauch who suited up as Dinger, the Sacramento Rivercats baseball team's mascot for three years.
When he began teaching 14 years ago, Strauch said, "I thought I had to be all proper. But pretty soon I realized I got more out of my students if I was acting goofy. It's a lot of fun to see them say 'wow.' Their eyes light up and their imaginations open up."
He visits the places his class is studying and takes pictures of himself at the location. Those pictures are posted prominently around his classroom. "I go to all these different places so my students can say 'wow, if he can go there, I can go there,'" Strauch said.
Strauch has found that many of his students can't wait to share their news with him after they convince their parents to take them to California historical sites.
Students and parents can get homework assignments and other classroom news from Strauch's website. It features a weekly podcast that's introduced by local and national celebrities like entertainer Leeza Gibbons and Bob Bergen, the voice of Porky the Pig.
Strauch's students also covet Disney dollars -- small red bills that enter them into a monthly drawing for a variety of prizes. "We have things like tickets for skating rinks, ice skating, Golfland and Sunsplash entertainment center in Roseville," said Strauch.
He said he tries hard to keep his classroom exciting. "It helps make a better connection for students and helps them remember what they're learning," Strauch explained.
Strauch also runs an afterschool program for students who need help with math.
By Karen Massie, firstname.lastname@example.org