Operation MathLog - a progress report
An internet-based EFL maze for logical-mathematical
By Rolf Palmberg, Åbo Akademi University, Vaasa,
Background and aim
Operation MathLog is an
internet-based EFL maze designed for logical-mathematical learners, i.e.
learners who are particularly fond of logical reasoning and numbers (Gardner
1993, 1999). More specifically, such logic smart and number
smart learners (Armstrong 1999) typically enjoy tasks that involve
solving problems, finding patterns, completing brain teasers, asking
why questions, conducting experiments, learning about how things
work, working with numbers, categorising, and sorting (Christison 2005). Other
suitable exercises within an EFL context are crosswords and word grids (Berman
The main purpose of Operation MathLog is to increase
learners knowledge and understanding of English vocabulary. Aimed
at the type of learner described above, the selection of language tasks
includes anagrams, acronyms, word search grids, word chop exercises, riddles,
arranging tasks, categorisation tasks, enclosures, spotting the odd man out,
cryptograms, problem-solving tasks, and combinations of these.
of the present paper is to explain the rationale behind Operation MathLog and
to report on the phases it has undergone so far.
The first twelve tasks of Operation MathLog were published on
the internet in December 2005, when a CALL website for EFL teachers (Palmberg
2000-2006) was provided with a hyperlink to the opening web page of the maze
(Palmberg 2005). At the same time, five counters from AddFreeStats were added
to select web pages of the maze to keep track of the number of visitors.
At the time of writing, Operation MathLog consists of about twenty
language tasks, each occupying a web page of its own. The only website address
(or URL) available to learners is that of the opening web page of the maze. In
order to proceed, learners must first solve the task presented on that web
page. They must then take the keyword that constitutes the solution to the task
and replace the word mathlog in the URL of the opening web page
with the new keyword. The same principle applies throughout the maze: the word
that constitutes the solution to a given task is the new keyword that must be
entered into the URL instead of the previous keyword.
are given on the opening web page, and potential players/learners are advised
to keep diaries and make notes of the name, the type of exercise, and
especially the keyword for each task. There are no help functions, and learners
may occasionally come across tasks that they find difficult to solve. Truly
logical-mathematical learners may then try to locate remaining tasks by using
their knowledge of computer technology instead. In order to prevent
computerised search, or at least make things more difficult for potential
hackers, there are no easily guessable keywords in the URLs. For the same
reason, all web pages (other than the opening web page) have deliberately been
left orphan, meaning that there are no hyperlinks to direct
learners to other web pages.
At the beginning of January 2006, major
search engines such as AllTheWeb, AltaVista and Google gave two hits when
searching for operation mathlog (the opening web page of the maze
and the CALL website referred to above). Luckily, the search engines
didnt (and still dont) find any of the orphan web pages although
the pages contain the title of the maze.
Increasing the availability
of Operation MathLog
During the first four months of 2006, the opening
web page of the maze was accessed by more than 30 different IP addresses (not
including visits made from computers hosted by the Faculty of Education at ?bo
Akademi University) representing about 20 different countries. Similarly, the
second web page (the one immediately following the opening web page) was
accessed by a dozen IP addresses representing almost as many different
countries. Not unexpectedly, the latter IP addresses had also been registered
by the counter on the opening web page.
The three remaining counters,
however, had no registered visits at all. As it was felt important to know
exactly which specific task (or tasks) had constituted the greatest obstacle(s)
to visitors, it was decided that all web pages of the maze (not just a
selection) be provided with counters.
Up to the end of April,
information about the maze had been available to the general public only
through the CALL website referred to above and a paper published in CALL Review
(Palmberg 2006a). In order to make the maze known to a wider audience and
thereby increasing the number of visitors, an abstract promoting the maze was
published on the Linguistic Funland TESOL.net web page at the end of April. Two
months later, in June, a more detailed version of the paper was presented at an
international conference organised by the Korea Association of Teachers of
English in Seoul and published in the Conference Proceedings (Palmberg
Problems and prospects
Visitors registered by a given
AddFreeStats counter on a given web page must, at least in theory, have seen
and solved all preceding language tasks. The number of visitors registered on a
given web page must therefore be smaller the further away a given counter (on a
given web page) is from the opening web page. To put it differently, the number
of visitors is expected to drop gradually from the opening web page towards the
final web page of the maze.
Since the beginning of May, the opening
web page of the maze has been visited by an average of two visitors per day (in
addition to visits made from computers hosted by ?bo Akademi University). A
substantial increase in the number of visitors is therefore required before
tentative answers can be found for questions such as the following:
- Which hyperlinks (if any) do visitors follow to get to the
opening web page of the maze?
- What countries do visitors come from?
- How far towards the final web page do visitors proceed?
- What is the average dropout rate from task to task?
- Which task(s) produce(s) the highest number of
Difficulty levels obviously differ from task to task and an
order of increasing difficulty would in theory be a good solution. In practice,
however, such an order of increasing difficulty is very hard to establish. A
task that is perceived as difficult by one learner may be perceived as easy by
somebody else, and vice versa. Arranging tasks into an order of increasing
difficulty is also complicated by the fact that the structure of the maze (as
the name implies) is not linear.
The maze also contains so-called
checkpoint tasks, the main purpose of which is to make sure that learners have
in fact solved all previous tasks. For example, when learners in a specific
task are required to choose one of two possible routes, they will, at later
stage, having solved a so-called checkpoint task, end up taking the other
route. In another checkpoint task, learners are given questions that cannot be
answered without the knowledge gained from previous tasks.
final web page of the maze, visitors are requested to send an email message to
the author. They are asked to make comments on individual tasks and to reveal
whether they did in fact solve all language tasks or whether they used
alternative ways to arrive at the final web page. Furthermore, they are invited
to submit additional tasks to be included in the maze, an activity that (if
they take up the gauntlet) will not only increase their knowledge of English
vocabulary but also develop their general language awareness and
critical thinking abilities.
Operation MathLog can be
Armstrong, T. (1999). 7 Kinds of Smart:
Identifying and Developing Your Many Intelligences. New York: Plume
Berman, M. (2002). A Multiple Intelligences Road to an ELT
Classroom. Carmarthen: Crown House Publishing. Second edition.
Gardner, H. (1993). Multiple Intelligences. The Theory in Practice.
New York: Basic Books.
Gardner, H. (1999). Intelligence Reframed.
Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century. New York: Basic Books.
Palmberg, R. (2000-2006). Downloadable computer programs for EFL.
Palmberg, R. (2005). Operation MathLog.
Palmberg, R. (2006a). Catering for mathematical-logical EFL
learners. CALL Review (Spring 2006) (pp 32-34).
Palmberg, R. (2006b). Operation MathLog - an internet-based EFL maze for
mathematical-logical learners. In 2006 International Conference.
Beyond the Horizon: Extending the Paradigm of TEFL (pp 91-94). Seoul 2006:
The Korea Association of Teachers of English.
© Rolf Palmberg 2006
Palmberg is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Teacher Education at Abo
Akademi University in Vaasa, Finland, where he has taught EFL methodology since
1979. His publications comprise articles, reports, books and bibliographies in
the fields of applied linguistics and foreign language teaching. He has given
presentations at international conferences in several countries and numerous
in-service courses on CALL and ICT in various educational institutions in
Finland. Rolf Palmberg's CALL site is at:
Palmberg is author of the downloadable ebooks
CALL for You and
Developing EFL Learners'