How to modify the Jetpack email subscription settings when using a shortcode

There are a lot of cool features that are available on

Jetpack is a free WordPress plugin that connects your self-hosted WordPress website to to use some of these features. (Not everyone loves Jetpack because it apparently bloats down your website, auto-activates features that you may not want, and leaves some people with an “icky” feeling. Also, it’s not completely free. Other people love it because it makes it way to easy to add cool features.)

Subscriptions are automatically turned on when you install Jetpack. You can add signup options in the comment section, as a widget in your sidebar, or by adding a shortcode into your post or page. You can read more about subscriptions here.

The cool thing about using a shortcode to put up your sign up form is that you can customize it. Just put in the following line in a blog post (without the space between the brackets.)

[ jetpack_subscription_form ]

Looking under the hood, there are a few options we can get from the code:

  • show_subscribers_total=”true” (by default, false)
  • title=”Subscribe to Blog via Email”
  • subscribe_text=”Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.”
  • subscribe_button=”Subscribe”
  • subscribe_logged_in=”Click to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.”

Here’s an example of what you could do. (Just remove the spaces from around the square brackets):

[ jetpack_subscription_form show_subscribers_total=0 title=”Sign up for our email newsletter” subscribe_text=”Give us your email address and whenever I write something about assignments, homework, or tests, you’ll receive a little email in your inbox.” subscribe_button=”Sign up now!” ]

Cool, huh?

Sign up for our email newsletter

Give us your email address and whenever I write something about assignments, homework, or tests, you'll receive a little email in your inbox.

This means, it’s easy to get a Jetpack email subscription form into a popup like with this plugin:

Stop your blog from commenting on itself (no self ping trackbacks)

link 5359581911_d07f15db17_zDid you WordPress lets you keep track of who is linking to your work?

When someone links to one of your WordPress posts, you’ll get an automatic comment on your post called a trackback. It’s kind of a cool way to see who is linking to your stuff.

(A better way to see who is linking to your site might be to do a Google search using the “link” operator. If you type in Google, you’ll see the webpages that link back to the search engine. Click here for more information about links to your site, including how to use Google Analytics to access referring sites.)

So, what’s the problem?

Well, if you link back to another post on your website, you get an instant comment on that post. This is called a self-ping. It’s funny the first few times, and then it just gets annoying because it clutters up your comments.

You can turn off the self pings with the free No Self Pings WordPress plugin. It hasn’t been updated in a few years, but it still works fine. Still works after all this time for me and these people as well.

Once you install this plugin, all of the comments and trackbacks you get on your site will be from other people. Nice.


Photo Credit: by ()

Converting Categories into Tags or other custom taxomonies (home made categories)

custom post typeSearch engines like a well organized site. Heck, people like a well organized site.

When you’re writing on your WordPress website, you can organize your “posts” using categories or tags. (Remember that “pages” don’t have categories or tags. Check out this post for more differences between posts and pages.)

  • Categories let you create a hierarchial list and you get checkboxes to choose an option.
  • Tags do not have any organization and you get a text input box to enter terms.
  • Find our more about the differences between categories and tags.

Sometimes things get messy and you want to reorganize your website. You want to convert posts into pages or you want to convert some of your categories into tags… or, vice-versa.

Recently on one of our websites, we wanted to do some house cleaning. Here are two free WordPress plugins that made our life easier. No messy coding involved.

[stextbox id=”warning”]Warning: It’s a good idea to backup your website before you change multiple posts.[/stextbox]

How to convert posts into pages (or other custom types)

There are two free wordpress plugins to let you change posts into pages (or other custom post types.) Both of these plugins work great to switch existing content between posts and pages or to change them into any new post types that you made. (We used the free Types plugin to create a bunch of new post types.)

Convert Post Types lets you change a whole bunch of pages into posts at one time. We had created a whole bunch of posts about different splash pads and needed an easy way to turn them into a custom post type that we made. Convert Post Types made life pretty easy.


We’ve also used the free Post Type Switcher wordpress plugin in the past. This plugin lets you change the post type one-by-one when you are editing the post directly.

[stextbox id=”warning”]WARNING: Do not use the Post Type Switcher plugin if you are using the Views plugin to create custom views. See Advanced Notes below.[/stextbox]


How to convert categories into tags (or other custom taxonomies)

Term Management Tools is a free plugin that lets you reogranize your categories and tags. This plugin also worked with custom categories and tags (custom taxonomies) that we’ve made.

Click on the post menu and then either categories or tags.


By default, WordPress doesn’t give you a lot of “bulk actions.” Basically, all you can do is delete a whole bunch of categories at once.


The Terms Management Tools plugin lets you do three cool things.

  1. Set Parent: Normally, WordPress lets you set the parent for one of your categories one at a time. With this plugin, you can set the parent for a whole bunch at once.
  2. Merge: You can merge two separate categories or tags into a single category (or tag)
  3. Change Taxonomy: You can move categories into tags or tags into a custom category taxonomy that you’ve made, etc.

change categories

Advanced “Do It Yourself” stuff to know about converting tags into categories

Why did we need this plugin? Right now, we’re using the premium Views plugin on our splash pad website. Originally, we had a bunch of parent-child hierarchial categories.

  • For example, we had region as a parent category, and then a bunch of locations as child categories.
  • Then, we had hours of operations, and then a bunch of different sub categories (i.e. all day, weekends only, etc)

The Views plugin lets you add a pretty cool search engine to your website so that visitors can filter information from your site based on set criteria. For example, if you’re visiting a real-estate website, you might want to find houses in a certain area, with a certain number of rooms and for a certain price.

The problem with having everything in one category is that it shows up as one very long, messy list in your search bar. The other problem is that you can’t find posts that any criteria from one parent set of categories AND any criteria from a second parent set of categories.

When you search using the Views plugin, you can filter the results based on categories and you can choose whether user selected categories within the same taxonomy are filtered by finding posts with “Any of the following” categories, “NOT one of the following” categories, “ALL of the following” categories (or a few other options, including URL variables).

Unfortunately, with splash pad regions and hours of operations in the same category taxonomy, there didn’t seem to be a way to find splash pads from multiple geographic regions but only under certain hours of operation.

A user might want to find splashpads in region A or region B, but only those that are open 24 hours a day. If you set the Views Parametric search controls to filter “any of the following” categories, then you might get a splash pad that was open 24 hours a day, but not in region A or B.

Long story short, we used the free Types Custom Fields and Custom Post Types Management plugin to create custom categories (like Splashpad Hours of Operation.) We used the Terms Management Tools plugin to split up our parent hierarchial categories into separate taxonomies, and now we can make the search bar prettier AND have our search engine find splashpads from any of the user selected regions AND any of the user selected times.

[stextbox id=”warning”]post-type-switcher-views-errorWarning: Do not use the Post Type Switcher plugin if you are creating custom views with the Views plugin. There is a known issue on the wp-types forum where saving custom views suddenly became posts instead of views. (Unfortunately, you need to be members in order to see this forum post from March 28, 2013.)

My concern would be if this post accidentally got emailed out to subscribers. Jetpack only emails out new posts when they are first published. We made this mistake and created a few Views posts accidentally, but I didn’t see anything show up in my email. Still, it’s not a very comforting glitch and hopefully the compatibility issue gets fixed in a future wp-types update.[/stextbox]

Organizing your posts and pages

So you want to write stuff on your wordpress website. Well, you generally have two options. You can write stuff as a “post” or as a “page”

add new post

What’s the difference? Not much.

The front page of a wordpress website (blog) is basically a timeline of all of your recent posts. When you write something new, it shows up on the front page and everything else gets pushed back.

  • When you write something as a “post”, it shows up on the front page of your website.
  • When you write something as a “page”, it doesn’t.

Here are a few more differences:

A post

1. Every time you write a post, it shows up on the front page of your website.

  • Assuming, of course, that you haven’t set up your home page to show a specific landing page.

2. If people have an email subscription to your website, then the moment you publish a post, they will also receive that post via email.

  • This is great if you run a class website and you want parents and students to receive an “email newsletter” everytime you update the class site.
  • If people follow your blog using a RSS reader, then the moment you publish a “post”, it will show up in the reader RSS feed as well.

3. You can organize posts into categories and tags.

  • Posts will show up on the front page of your website, but your visitors might want to see everything you’ve written about a specific topic. That’s where categories and tags come in.
  • If your visitors click on a category or tag, they can see all of the other posts in that category or tag.
  • Categories can be put into a hierarchical order. (For example, archways are a type of water play structure)
  • Tags can not be nested into subcategories .

categories tags

A page

1. When you write a page, it doesn’t automatically show up on the front page of your website.

  • I find students and new website users get frustrated when they publish a page and can’t find it. It’s there, but you’ll need to add a link to it somewhere on your website so that visitors can find the page.
  • Most people add a link to their page in the navigation menu. Just click on “Menus” (under Appearance)menu
  • And then add your specific page to the menu.add to menu
  • You can also add a “widget” to your sidebar that shows a list of pages. Just click on “Widgets” (under Appearance)
  • And then click and drag the “Pages” widget to your sidebar.pages widgets

2. When you publish a “page” it won’t send out an email to viewers who have signed up for your newsletter.

  • You may not want everything you put on your website to get sent to visitors. For example, your “about” page should be written as a “page” and not a “post”
  • Pages do not show up in your blog’s feed.

3. You can organize your pages by setting “parent” pages.

  • You can create subpages. When your pages get listed (like in your sidebar), they will show your subpages indented under the parent page.subpages

Advanced “Do It Yourself” stuff to know about Pages and Posts

  1. Posts and Pages don’t exist as physical files on your server. You can’t download them using a FTP client. Instead, all of the post and page information lives in your database. (So when you back up your website, make sure you’re backing up your database as well.)
  2. It’s easy to switch between posts and pages (and even custom post types) if you install the free Post Type Switcher plugin from the WordPress Plugin Directory.
  3. You can set custom fields for both pages and posts. Custom fields let you add data to posts and then you can use that information in different ways. For example, on the Ottawa Splash Pads site, the number of ground sprinklers (and other water play structures) are set in custom fields so we can make all of the different splash pash pages look the same. (You can display the custom field data in the theme directly.)
  4. Your WordPress theme may let you use custom templates for both pages and posts. The Thesis framework lets you use a custom template so that you can change the look of a specific post or page. (For example, you might not want a sidebar on your sales landing page so that it looks different from the rest of your blog.)
    thesis custom template

WordPress Privacy Settings are now in the Reading section

If you’ve been using WordPress for your classroom blog for a while, then you’re probably used to finding the privacy settings for your site by clicking “privacy” in the settings menu

This lets you decide whether you want your site to get listed by the search engines.

As of December 2012, the privacy settings have moved in the latest version of WordPress (3.5). They’re now called site visibility settings and you can find them in the Reading section of your classroom blog’s setting menu:

I guess this makes sense because WordPress now calls them “site visibility” options instead of privacy options. This is more accurate because when you run your own WordPress server for your classroom blog, the only two options you get are basically allow search engines to list you or ask search engines to ignore you.

If you’re a teacher running a classroom blog or a network of student blogs / websites, then privacy is a very real concern. Your privacy options are different depending on whether your website is on or your running your own WordPress server.

If your class site is on, then you have an additional (site visibility) privacy options: you can make your site private and visible only to your students. ( used to limit you to 35 users on a private blog, but in Jan 2012, they removed the limit. This means that teachers can run a free, private classroom blog on with as many students as you wish. Of course, your students have to create their own free wordpress accounts.

If you run your own WordPress server, then you can install a free WordPress plugin called More Privacy Options which give you three additional privacy options:

  • Make your blog visible to any community member. (In other words, anyone that has a user account on your WordPress server)
  • Make your blog visible to only registered users on your blog. (So, only student users that you’ve added to your blog. This is the same as the option, “I would like my site to be private, visible only to users I choose.”)
  • Make your blog visible only to administrators.

(By the way, as of Dec 2012, these privacy options now show up in the Reading Settings section of your WordPress blog)


Getting a custom website address for your class website

Website Address Bar - http and wwwSometimes you want to buy your own website address because is easier for students and parents to remember than something like

4 Things Teachers should know about buying a domain name for your class website

If you already have your classroom website up and running, here are some things to know before you buy your first domain name.

  1. Getting your own domain name will cost around $10 to $15 per year for the domain name. (This is just the web address of your class website.) Some domain registrar companies will charge $35 per year for the same domain name
  2. Some places have special promotional prices for $0.99 domain names. Make sure you read the fine print. Usually the promotional pricing lasts for the first year, and then afterwards, you have to pay their regular ($10-$15+) fee
  3. Even if you have a free wordpress blog somewhere, you’ll probably have to pay additional fees to use the domain name you just bought. This feature is called domain mapping. (You may not have to pay attention fees. Skip to the end.)
    • For example, it costs $13.00 (per year) to use your own domain name on your blog.
    • If you use Edublogs, it will cost $39.95 (per year or $7.95 per month) to upgrade to the Educator Pro account and use your own custom domain.
    • If you run your own WordPress server using the free software that you download from, then there are ways you can use your custom domain for free, but you’ll need to pay for webhosting services (unless you can run WordPress on your school servers for free.) I started off with running class websites on a shared hosting plan with BlueHost, but now I pay for a more powerful (and more expensive) cloud server with
  4. Be careful! Your personal information (address, phone number) might be published on the internet. 
    • When you register a domain name, the registration information gets published on a public WHOIS database.
    • Some domain name companies will offer “Whois Privacy” so that it hides your personal information behind another company name.
    • WHOIS privacy can be free or company can charge money. For example, GoDaddy charges $10 per year (for each domain name) to protect your personal information.

Over the past few years, I’ve run a bunch of websites for my class, my colleagues, and my school. I’ve bought from the big guys like GoDaddy with their superbowl commercials.

Right now, I buy my domain names from,

Here’s why:

  •  It only costs $10.45 (CAD) per year for a Canadian .CA domain name. It costs slightly more ($13.06/yr) for a .COM domain name.
  • They offer free WHOIS privacy so I don’t have to worry about my address and phone number getting posted online.
  • They have a “DNS Manager” which gives me advanced control over the domain name so I can use it with my WordPress website.

If you do decide to get your own domain name…

Here are three things to consider:
[pwal id=”29572310″ description=”Like this post to read 3 tips to think about before buying your own custom website address for your class website”]

  • Make sure you get a domain name that is easy for students to remember and spell. (I’m always amazed at spelling mistakes that people make.)
  • Are you going to get a .CA or a .COM or a .ORG domain name? What website will your students and parents land on if they make a mistake entering your class website address. leads to an official school board website. leads to advertising.
  • What words come up when you google your custom domain name? I’m also amazed at the number of students and teachers who type in a website address into a Google search bar (and not their actual browser.) Google the custom website address that you’re thinking about using and see what shows up on the top page.
  • What are you going to do with your class website next year when you’re teaching a new class? Are you going to keep the same domain name and delete the content? I know a person who has bought an easy-to-remember class website address. Students type in TEACHERNAME.COM and get redirected to – a free class website. Next year, students will type in TEACHERNAME.COM and get redirected to the current class website ( – but all of the former students could still visit their old site and remember the good ol’ days. (Oh, and this way, you don’t have to pay the extra fees to map your domain and use your custom website address with your free WordPress website.)


Fixing the BuddyPress Who’s Online Avatar to show people horizontally instead of vertically

The cool thing about BuddyPress is that it lets you add a sidebar widget to show who is online right now as well. It works great if you’re using the default buddypress theme, but if you’re using a different theme, it may show your users in a single vertical list. Not very pretty.

Here’s the fix posted on the form that worked on our BuddyPress 1.6  network. We use the Thesis theme framework so you can simply copy and paste the css code into the custom file editor.

Good to know. We use Ron’s BP Multi Network plugin to create separate buddypress networks on the same WordPress install so now I just need to figure out how to make the Who’s Online buddypress widget only show users of a specific buddypress network (and not every single user in the entire installation.)

Use the Jetpack WordPress plug-in to find out who is reading your student blogs

One of the coolest things about having students blog in the classroom is that they are writing for an authentic purpose. If your students have a public blog, teachers, classmates, friends and family overseas, and the entire world can read their words.

I find my students are excited knowing that other people are reading their work. If your students blog using WordPress, then there are a few different plug-ins you can use to track visitors to your site as well as the search terms that they used in Google to find your site.

The Jetpack plug-in is a nice fun because it’s easy to set up, but there are a few things that you might want to think about before making it available on your student blogging network. Read more »

WordPress Premium Thesis theme gives your students more control over their student blogs

This post is not for everybody. In fact, over 95% of teachers don’t need to read this post.

It’s certainly not for the teacher who is just starting to blog with their students. If you’re thinking about starting a class website next year, read this post about how to make a class website. (If you’re not thinking about blogging in the classroom, here are six reasons why your students should blog.)

If you’ve been running a class blog for a while, then this post is also not for you. You might want to give each of your students their own blog on Blogger, or first. Some teachers will want to buy premium upgrades on WordPress, or Edublogs to get more features.

If you want more from your student blogs, then consider creating a class network of blogs using the multisite features of WordPress. You need to run your own self hosted WordPress account in order to do this.

If you’ve been running your own WordPress network and you’ve set up your students as admins on their own blogs, then chances are, you’ve installed a lot of the free themes from the WordPress repository. This post is for you. Read on.

For the past few years, I’ve run my own multisite network using a self hosted WordPress account to give my students the opportunity to manage their own student blogs and the creative control to call their own shots. (Usually students blog on a teacher controlled website – students are often just authors and contributors, while the teacher is the ultimate admin.) Setting up students as administrators on their own blogs is a great hands-on lesson in literacy and media literacy.

Free themes are great and there are lots of very cool themes out there, but one of the problems with free WordPress themes is that you’re limited to a cookie-cutter template. Sure, some themes offer opportunities to tweak and change the appearance, but free themes usually don’t offer a lot in customization opportunities.

One of the dangers of classroom technology is that it can be a gimmick. Education Week Teacher ran a first-person commentary by Paul Barnwell, who pointed out that students “become dependent on technology that requires too many templates… These gimmicks do not develop genuine technology competence.” He raised the issue of how we can help students to become more tech savvy – and be able to synthesize ideas/media forms, and create original stuff.

Media literacy and student blogging: Why students need to do more than simply choose a cookie-cutter theme for their student blog

Read more »

Using a WordPress Moderation plug-in to help cut down on inappropriate content on student blogs

If your students blog in the classroom, there are two basic ways to make sure their writing is appropriate. There are pros and cons to both methods.

Method #1: Students do not have publishing rights. The teacher moderates everything and nothing gets published without teacher approval.

This means the teacher is the bottleneck to the flow of conversation and creativity because the teacher has to check every single post before other students can see it. If you have 30 students in your class and they blog frequently, it quickly becomes overwhelming for the teacher to try to read everything. The benefit to this system is that nothing inappropriate gets online. The downside is that your students are getting bored waiting for you to approve their post, so it’s hard to build momentum in your student blogging network.

Method #2: Students have publishing rights. This means students can publish anything (gasp!), but are trusted to post responsibly. (Especially if they know that they have to login to post or comment, which means they can be held responsible.) The teacher monitors the website and takes down any inappropriate content.

The benefit to this approach is that students can publish their work and respond to their classmates at the speed of thought. The danger is that students might publish inappropriate content that can be viewed by others until it gets taken down (if it gets caught.)

Which method you choose is a personal choice. There’s no right or wrong answer. It all depends on your comfort level and the maturity of your students. Here’s how you can set up your student accounts if you use WordPress for your class (or student) blogs:

Setting up your student WordPress accounts

  1. Log into your class WordPress site and click on users.
  2. You can select multiple students and then change their role.
  3. If you want Method #1 and you want a teacher to moderate all content before it gets published, students need to be set up as contributors. This means students will be able to edit and delete their posts, but they won’t be able to publish their posts. (On the post writing screen, when they want to publish something, there will be a button that says “submit for review” instead of “publish.”) Students who are set up as “contributors” cannot publish or edit their own published posts. This means that if a teacher publishes their work and the student goes in and tries to change something, they will have to click the “submit for review” button. (This is a good thing because it means that students can’t go in and add inappropriate content once the teacher has approved their work.)
  4. If you want Method #2 and you want students to be able to publish their own work, student accounts need to be set up as authors. This means students can edit, and delete their own posts as well as publish their own posts. They can also delete and edit their own published work.
  5. If you want to give a trusted student (or another teacher) the power to publish or edit other people’s work, then their account needs to be set up as editors. Editors can do a lot, so be careful who you give this much power to. These people will be able to moderate, edit, change, delete and publish other students work, including both post and comments. When you click on the posts screen, there’s a new option that lets you see all of the posts that are pending approval.

Three WordPress Plug-Ins to Help You Monitor and Cut down Inappropriate Student Content on Your Class Websites

If you do decide to go with method #2 and give your students publishing rights, then you want to use some sort of WordPress plug-in to help monitor what your students are writing. Here are two of the plug-ins used on Educircles –online literature circle and student blogging network. (You need to run your own self hosted WordPress class website in order to install your own plug-ins.) Read more »