Engaging Your Middle School Students Starts with the Right Tools

By: Leader Fellow Mia Bradford
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I have the awesome privilege of managing the early college awareness curriculum for Houston ISD. I’m tasked with ensuring that all campuses provide instruction to students in grade seven or eight in preparing for high school, college, and a career.

In addition to managing the curriculum, I started a comprehensive college and career readiness program for our district called Project Explore. I have a team of 10 amazing advisers whose full-time responsibility is delivering college and career readiness curriculum to seventh and eighth graders on two campuses and providing educational experiences to students in the Project Explore program.

Starting the first week of February, our Project Explore advisers will begin delivering the Texas OnCourse curriculum to over 3,000 seventh graders in our district. Isn’t that remarkable? I am so excited to see how endorsement selection and personal graduation plan completion will gradually become easier as students are exposed to these resources earlier. It’s important for students to really take a deep dive into understanding which pathway is right for them.

Read on for more details on how Texas OnCourse’s Middle School Resources (free for all and available for immediate registration/download) can help them do just that. And once you’re ready, I challenge you to join us by having your students register for MiddleGalaxy and MapMyGrad.


Eighth grade students across Texas are gearing up to complete their personal graduation plans before heading off to their respective high schools. Creating a four-year plan can be quite a task, especially when you serve Houston ISD, the largest school district in Texas. In our district, students can apply to up to five high schools and may not know where they will be attending until March.

The great news is that Texas On Course’s tool MapMyGrad allows our students to view the courses offered at each campus and begin mapping out their four-year plan. That way students also learn how varied the career pathways are on each campus, and they can make a more informed choice when deciding which campus to attend in the fall.

In addition, our transition counselors who work with ninth-grade students will begin using MapMyGrad during their advising sessions. These students will see what types of classes they can expect over their four-year journey and understand what classes they need in order to graduate and complete an endorsement. This is especially important for our students who seek to qualify for assured admission by ranking or being eligible for the TEXAS Grant.

Curriculum Guide

Starting this spring, Houston ISD is officially implementing four lessons from the Texas OnCourse Middle School Curriculum Guide. We will focus on the following lessons from the Curriculum Guide:

Unit 1, chapter 1, lesson 1.2: Investigating Career Clusters and Programs of Study

Unit 1, chapter 1, lesson 1.3: Deep Dive into My Preferred Career Clusters

Unit 1, chapter 1, lesson 1.4: Understanding the Five High School Endorsements

Unit 1, chapter 1, lesson 1.5: Endorsement Requirements

I chose these lessons because after doing this work for three years, I noticed that our students struggled with understanding and choosing endorsements in the eighth grade. Therefore, we wanted to start during seventh grade so that our students gain a firm grasp of how to categorize careers, explore those that interest them, and pair careers with endorsement(s).

Students will be able to explore careers and endorsements over four modules. This will culminate in a college and career readiness research project where students will use the research skills they learned in English class to develop a creative project centered around their career and endorsement.

Family Guide

Houston ISD has recently implemented a bimonthly event called Parent University. One member from the Project Explore teams attends these events and is able to share the Middle School Family Guide. We take excerpts from the Family Guide and explain to parents how to use it so that they feel comfortable having conversations with their student about postsecondary planning.


MiddleGalaxy, the space-themed career exploration game, is incorporated into our eighth-grade mathematics financial literacy unit as an extended learning activity for students to explore various careers in a fun, exciting, and energetic way. Our teachers are provided with the website and directions on how to set up their classrooms to utilize the interactive game, and I serve as on-site support and guidance for the tool.

As you can see, Texas OnCourse offers a wealth of middle school resources to enrich and engage students. I encourage all Texas middle school educators, counselors, and advisers to consider how registering your students for MapMyGrad or MiddleGalaxy can improve their academic experience and chances for success. When it comes to college and career planning, I feel great knowing that there are free, high quality resources available to my students in Houston ISD and those all over the state.