Twenty Fifteen Child Theme

Twenty Fifteen Child Theme
Twenty Fifteen Child Theme

So I’ve implemented a child theme for this research blog. For a while I’ve used Twenty Fifteen, because it’s a blog-oriented theme. But I have to hack some costum pages for the research project. I need pages that map the project, and pages that’ll sum up the proceedings of the present blog.

That’s a job for a child theme!

The code for the child theme is available on Github.

Teaching WordPress Themes from Scratch

Here’s the challenge for the class:

  • Create a repo on Github.
  • Create a WordPress theme from scratch.

During the six hour lesson files, such as:

  • functions.php
  • header.php
  • footer.php
  • style.css
  • index.php

was presented one by one. The students had to create their own version of a WordPress theme on Github.

As far as I could see there were five – six groupings in the class.Some students were able to create a WordPress theme, like:

Some groups, however, found that the task was too difficult. I asked them, what was difficult, and got very honest feedback, like:

  • “We don’t understand the purpose of PHP.”
  • “Why can’t I see my localhost site online?”

On Github I could see, that some students didn’t understand the concept of includes. So there was some truth in the utterance: “We don’t know what PHP is“. In fact the problem was deeper than that.

Some 2nd semester students did not understand the basic structure of a HTML document. It was clear that at least some of them did not know which tags belonged to the head section, or the body section.

When I reviewed the code from some groups, it was clear, that thy didn’t understand the concept of includes, like get_header() og get_footer(). The idea of partials was not understood, so the basic contruction of the WordPress theme was not understood at all.

One or two students tried to develop the theme on say the desktop folder. Of course this approach wasn’t a success. I tried to help them moving the files to /wp-content/themes/

I asked the students to share code and work together on Github. They used Gitkraken as a GUI. Some groups could do it. Other groups did not get the concept at all. However most groups were able to share and edit code in a previous lesson.

Before you attempt to develop WordPress themes in the classroom make sure that the students have a basic understanding of concepts such as the structure of a HTML document.

Also I have an eery feeling, that at least some students need a better understanding of:

  • Operative systems.
  • The difference between own files and files online.
  • Where the files are (the concept of directories)
  • That the ../htdocs folder has other functions than say the Desktop on a localhost
  • What Xampp, Mamp or similar does.

Now here is the real didactic challenge. If the problem is a poor understanding of operative systems, localhost servers and PHP that’s where we have to put the efforts in the classroom.

So it was agreed, that the class should be divided in two large groups:

  • Basic code understanding
  • WP theme developers

Observations: 2nd Semester Multimedia Design

Observations from a 2nd semeter class working on a magazine case. The class installed WordPress on localhosts a week before. During this class the students were introduced to themes and child themes. In the weeks to come the class will tweak a theme to suit a visual identity.

Issues for students on Mac-laptops

Before the teacher entered a student had a frustating problem. She had installed WordPress on a localhost environment via MAMP. But in the class she could not see the WP (WordPress) website. There was a message, like:

“No database connection.”

But it worked all right last week, she said. Noone really could say why such things happen. But I tried to help her. Checked the usual suspects, such as the settings in content.php, file and folder permissions. That kind of stuff. Nothing worked.

In the end she had to reinstall MAMP. She reinstalled MAMP, only to find more or less the same error. For some reason MAMP used port 8888 ( http://localhost:8888 ). The wordpress install seemed ok.

I suspected a missing database, but the link to PhpMyAdmin was missing in the MAMP admin panel. Actually she had to enter the link to:

http://localhost:8888/phpmyadmin

This url gave her access to the database.

Here we could see, that the wordpress database was missing. She created the database, and edited the wp-config.php file. Now she was able to reinstall WP again.

But then she could not upload pictures. Neither could 3 – 5 other students. I told them to give read-write permissions to the wp-content folder.

A typical usecase

This is a typical usecase, when we teach WordPress to students. The students on Windows systems don’t have such challenges ( apart from the occational blue screen of death, and related matters ). But the students on Mac systems, they’re in for a harder time.

During a break the interaction teacher told me, that such problems are common. A Mac is cool, but the security issues with file and folder permissions are stumbling blocks.

Roughly one third of the class used Mac laptops. So we know that they will experience issues.

The Magazine Case

Before the class the students worked on a magazine case. They had to imitate the style and fonts of several printed magazines. The HTML and CSS had to validate. And the teacher gave feed back to the groups.

The teacher asked the groups where they were in this process. Most of the groups had worked with logos, and the importance of visual identity was discussed. He (re)introduced an interesting tool:

“Use identifont to check whether your font is ok. Check whether your WP is still running, after the install last time.”

And told, that some fonts may cost money, but there are also free fonts available. E.g. you don’t have to pay for a font like Copperplate, since it’s a standard font in most browsers. Anyway: use fallbacks.

Theme and Child Theme

Then the teacher gave an introduction to themes. Twenty Seventeen was installed on the fly. The class was introduced to the costumize tools in the theme.

The students experimented with additional CSS. Most of them were able to hack small tweaks here. Some of them used developer toolbars, or the inspect element in Chrome or Firefox.

It seemed to me that the styling was a challenge. How are the elements styled? Some used the inspect element tool in the browsers. But often their CSS-rules were “overruled” by the theme settings. So they had to find tweaks.

They also tried to change the background and header images. Again some students experienced write-permission problems. Yes, they used a Mac-laptop. And the cure was the same as above.

During a short break the teacher told me, that such issues are common, when the students show up with a Mac. It’s hard for them to figure out, where things are, and stuff like folder permissions are big issues here.

The class was ready for the next level: child themes. The teacher wanted to demonstrate what a child theme is. He asked everybody to close the laptop lid, and listen. Unfortunately that was the moment when the projector decided to crash. There was nothing but a blue screen.

The teacher returned to the old virtues, and drew the file structure on the wall. Perhaps that was a lucky punch, because the file structure became very clear in that wat. Then he explained:

  • the content of style.css
  • how to add the stylesheet from the “mother theme” in functions.php.

The class worked for a while. Then it was time for lunch. Everyone walked to the canteen.

Thanks to