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Soil,Breakout Box,TEACH-FLEX Classroom/Remote

Sifting Through Soil

Grade Levels: Middle School,High School

Soil is a vital part of agriculture. As cities grow, many people move away from an understanding of agriculture, even though it is essential to their lives. This breakout is designed to provide students basic knowledge of soil and the many benefits that it provides to us. Students will also be introduced to the various soil  qualities, the differences between soil and dirt, and management practices for retaining soil in fields. This breakout compliments the Kansas Corn Stem labs Soil Sleuths, Soil Erosion, and Just Dirt found at It can be used as an introductory to one or all of those labs or this activity can be altered to serve as more of an assessment following the completion of the three labs.

Instruction Video for Teachers

Untitled Design (41)

TEACH-FLEX Option: Online Breakout Box

Using, our game can be played online. No physical box needed! Teacher Tip: Instructions below are for the classroom breakout box. For help with the answers to the online game, simply go to the Online Lock Combinations tab.

Digital Breakout Box: Sifting Through Soil

Teaching the Lesson


Middle School Science

  • LS1-7. Develop a model to describe how food is rearranged through chemical reactions forming new molecules that support growth and/or release energy as this matter moves through an organism.
  • LS1-5. Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for how environmental and genetic factors influence the growth of organisms.

High School Science

  • ESS3-2. Evaluate competing design solutions for developing, managing, and utilizing energy and mineral resources based on cost-benefit ratios.

Learning Objectives

  • Students will understand the difference between soil and dirt.
  • Students will identify different soil types.
  • Students will analyze and interpret data to provide evidence of the effects of soil erosion.

Breakout Edu Tips

If this is your first time using a Breakout Edu box, you are in for a treat. Once you’ve done one breakout box your students will be ready for the next time.

  • You can use breakout boxes as a whole class, in addition to small groups.
  • You have the opportunity to give students hints. Every box comes with at least two hint cards. If you have a high performing group, you may want to challenge them with less hints, while a different hour may need more hints.
  • Having a visual timer for students while they are working is really helpful. It allows them to budget their time and when they may want to use their hints.
  • As the teacher, you have the discretion to hide things wherever in your room you deem best. Feel free to make adjustments. Just make sure the clues for the locks don’t change. Otherwise, students may not be able to get in.

Breakout Activity

Recommended Ages: K-Adult
Ideal Group Size: Can be used small group or whole class
Suggested Time: 30-40 minutes


While hanging outside with your friends, you notice the recent storm has washed a mound of soil out onto the road and the plants it once supported are now lopsided. You suggest replacing the soil around the plants. Your friends don’t see the point since it is “just dirt” and they are “just plants.” This makes you wonder, “Are soil and dirt the same thing? “Could there be a difference between the two?” “Could have something been done differently to help prevent the soil from washing away?” For the answers to your questions and to save the plants, you must solve some clues. Hurry, there’s no time to waste!

Lock Combinations

The following codes will open the locks on the box.

3-Digit Lock – 3 Numbers

4-Digit Lock – 4 Numbers


Color Lock (Digital Version Only)
blue, brown, yellow, red, purple 

Directional Lock- 5 Directions for the Directional Multilock
Right, Up, Up, Left, Right

Lock Combinations

The following codes will open the locks on the box.

3-Digit Lock – 3 Numbers

4-Digit Lock – 4 Numbers


Shape Lock
○,◇,☆, ⇨ ,△ (silt, silty-clay, loam, sandy-clay, sand)

Color Lock (Digital Version Only)
blue, brown, yellow, red, purple 

Key Lock – Where is the Key Hidden?
Teacher’s Choice

Directional Lock- 5 Directions for the Directional Multilock
Right, Up, Up, Left, Right

Setup Instructions


  1. For the shapes lock, students will need one copy of the Soil Texture Triangle and Soil Texture Triangle pieces. Once all pieces are matched, they will read the graphic by following the sand separated percent arrow at the bottom. This will tell them what shape comes first, second, third, fourth, and fifth, respectively, on the lock. The colored pieces will be locked inside of the small box with the key lock. Feel free to hide the small box or leave it near the black and white triangle print out, depending on your students.
  2. Use the Soil vs. Dirt cards to help students find the hidden key. These cards should be printed off. The three soil cards should have the words “the, key, and is,” written on them in invisible ink, one word per card. The three dirt cards should have the words “hidden, in/by/under, and the location” written on them in invisible ink. Again, “hidden” would be written on one card, the preposition on the next card, and the location on the third and final card. You may want to leave the blacklight by this clue. If you have a group that works quickly, you can hide the light and even the batteries to make it more difficult. Choose the area best fit to hide the key according to your classroom. I like to hide it in an area under an item they may not traditionally look under without the clue. Place the key lock on the small box.
  3. Students will need to use the Earth as an Apple graph. Only partial fractions of the composition of Earth’s Valuable Soil are present. Students will need to use the pie graph to identify the missing numbers of the fractions and add those numbers to the boxes. The answer is 4-8-2-1, and it will open the 4-digit lock.
  4. Have the 10 Soil Measurement cards printed out. These can also be laminated for use again later. Students  will order them from highest to lowest sand percentages. The hint card saying, “Ready for this clue, I’ll give you a hand. Order highest to lowest percentages of sand.” Once they have the arrows on the cards in order, they will have the code for the directional lock.
  5. Print the potted plant image, Planted Pot Questions and QR code cards. Cut the potted plant cards on the line as perfect as possible. Students will need to match the plant to the correct pot. Students will need the pots in order of the Potted Plant Questions. These numbers have been bolded to draw attention to them. The answers for the 3-digit lock will come from this clue. Leaving the plant and pot pieces cut apart and spread out around the room can create an extra challenge.
  6. Place the multi-lock mechanism on the larger breakout box. Place the 3 digit, 4 digit, shape and directional lock on the multi-lock mechanism. It is always a good idea to double check your locks before beginning the lesson.
  7. When students unlock the large box, they will find a prize inside, typically candy. You can also include the questions below on half sheets of paper for students to turn in as exit tickets.
  8. It is also possible to include other supplies that would lead your students into completing other Kansas Corn STEM labs.


This breakout goes well with the following labs: “Soil Sleuths”, “Soil Erosion”, and “Just Dirt.”

Visit the PDF version of the “Sifting Through Soil”  for access to Earth is an Apple and Soil Texture Triangle answer kay

Reflection and Conclusion

At the completion of this Breakout, your students should have a better understanding of soil types and textures, the difference between soil and dirt, and how to take soil measurements. Feel free to give students the following questions as an exit ticket or knowledge check at the end of the Breakout. If you have groups that do not breakout, it is always nice to go over the information and clues that would have led to the last locks coming off.

1. What are the three categories of soil? Answer: Clay, silt, and loam.
2. What are the main parts that make up soil? Answer: Water, air, organic material, inorganic material, and minerals.
3. How many soil texture variations are listed on the soil texture triangle? Answer: 12.
4. What are some sustainable practices farmers use to reduce soil erosion? Answer: Cover crops.
5. What three types of soil did you measure on the soil measurement cards? Answer: Sand, silt, and clay.


Any educator electing to perform demonstrations is expected to follow NSTA Minimum Safety Practices and Regulations for Demonstrations, Experiments, and Workshops, which are available at http://static., as well as all school policies and rules and all state and federal laws, regulations, codes and professional standards. Educators are under a duty of care to make laboratories and demonstrations in and out of the classroom as safe as possible. If in doubt, do not perform the demonstrations.

About Kansas Corn STEM

Investing in Kansas teachers and students is a priority for the Kansas Corn Commission. We are committed to providing materials and training to support STEM education while fostering an understanding of how corn farming and agriculture fit into our daily lives. Professional development workshops are offered to teachers seeking to expand their knowledge and inquiry-based teaching skills.

Workshop Info

This lesson is the work product of the Kansas Corn Commission. Our lessons are written in collaboration with Kansas teachers for use in the classroom. Teachers may copy and share this curriculum. Use of this product for commercial or promotional use is prohibited without express permission of Kansas Corn.

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