A teeter totter is a long plank or platform which is suspended on a fulcrum. When weights are placed at either end of the plank, the plank may become balanced, in which case it moves to a horizontal position, or it may become imbalanced, with one side of the teeter totter being lower than the other. By adjusting the level and position of the weights, various levels of balance and imbalance can be achieved.
In physics classes, the teeter totter is often used to illustrate basic principles, with students exploring the different configurations which can cause the position of the machine to change. Problems involving an imbalanced board mounted on a fulcrum often crop up on examinations, as well, requiring students to put their skills to use. The governing principles which dictate the way in which a teeter totter moves can also be used for weights and measurements.
The teeter totter also appears as a tool for outside play. Many playgrounds for young children include a teeter totter, also known as a seesaw or tilt board. Playing on the unbalanced platform can simply be fun for children, but it can also be used as an educational tool, if parents show their children how changes in configuration can change the level of balance. Skilled users can even keep the equipment in constant motion by shifting their weight, which promotes cooperative play among children.
Although a playground teeter totter can be a great learning experience as well as a source of fun, it can also be potentially dangerous. Sudden shifts in weight may cause the device to become so unbalanced that a child could fall off, sustaining damage which could vary from a wounded pride to concussion. For this reason, soft materials are often positioned under a seesaw, so that children are not at risk of broken bones if they fall off, and children are cautioned to be careful when they use the device, to avoid hurting their playmates.
Manufacturers of playground equipment produce a range of teeter totters which are ready for installation, although some people prefer to make their own, or to improvise one using the materials at hand. In a classroom environment, making a seesaw can be an instructive project, while people horsing around in a yard or on the beach may want to be able to quickly assemble one for acrobatics and general fun.