Do the Twist

A group of students is gathered around a square table, on each side of which sit four small maps. In the center is a much larger map. The students are engaged in an animated discussion of key topographical features they are observing and the geological processes that may have produced them. Much pointing and tapping on the table punctuates the conversation. Then, to illustrate a point, one student grips and tilts the table, and a small picture from the edge slides to the center. The student applies a little clockwise torque and zooms in on the picture for a much more detailed view of the terrain.

This magical piece of equipment is the Tilty Twisty Table. The brainchild of developers at Onomy Labs ( in Menlo Park, California, the Tilty Twisty Table is a sturdy pedestal table augmented by a computer and a projector that casts images on it from overhead. By tilting the table, users move the images from the edge to the center; twisting it allows users to zoom in or out on the center image, making it possible to look at a very large document or picture in a small space.

Currently, the Tilty Twisty is used primarily in business settings and in museums, where enthusiastic children and adults have discovered that by lying on the table and letting an image sweep over them, they can evoke the sensation of flying. The city of Baltimore uses the tables to share maps during discussions of urban renewal projects.

Because the table encourages collaborative examination, its potential for classroom use is great. Beyond the obvious geography lesson, a Tilty Twisty Table could be an invaluable tool in other subjects. For example:

  • Kindergarteners observing and describing the appearance and behavior of plants and animals.
  • Fourth graders examining a particular ecosystem, learning which kinds of plants and animals survive more or less well there and which won't survive at all.
  • A 9th grade earth science class studying the interaction of wind patterns, ocean currents, and mountain ranges that result in the global pattern of latitudinal bands of rain forests and deserts.
  • An 11th grade English class learning to recognize and distinguish the characteristics of satire, parody, or allegory in works of poetry and prose.

The fourth scenario is a little different. In this context students use the Tilty Twisty Table to navigate a conceptual map, pausing to delve deeper into one concept or gain perspective on several. For example, at Full Zoom In, students might find specific selections from individual plays, poems, and so on. As they zoom out, they might look at themes, styles, forms, or imagery.

Even limited to its current features, the Tilty Twisty Table is a fascinating device. But imagine adding some of the functionality that lets users add audio sticky notes to record and save their insights. What if students could apply filters or overlays? What if some pictures talked or were even movies? What if students could rearrange or transform images on the table and save the new formations?

Michael Simkins is creative director of the Technology Information Center for Administrative Leadership (TICAL).