The Elwha River

Elwha River Restoration

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In this four-part lesson series, students observe the changes rippling through the Elwha’s ecosystem, find excitement in the story of one of the largest environmental restoration projects in human history, and design an investigation based on their learning of the Elwha River restoration.


Two educators lead 40 to 60 minute sessions as presenter and host using a video conference platform such as Zoom. Attending teachers participate as chaperones who observe and assist students as needed. Interactive technology tools may include Google Earth, Prezi, Jamboards, breakout sessions and participant polls. NatureBridge educators provide teachers with information to share with students who are unable to attend.

Session 1: Community Building 40-60 minute live session

This lesson sets students up for success! Meet our educators, establish community agreements, and gain an understanding of how our educational platforms work! Students will engage in team-building activities that help to create a fun and safe learning space to share and interact for future lessons. Students will be introduced to the story of the historic Elwha River where the key elements of communication, differing perspectives, and power of a community were able to help restore an ecosystem. Students will participate in a land acknowledgement of the traditional tribes of Olympic as well as the students' home communities.

Session 2: Dams Up 40-60 minute live session

What does a river provide? And what happens when a river is dammed? These guiding questions initiate the journey into an exploration of the Elwha River watershed, home to the Klallam people for thousands of years. Students learn how the Elwha was drastically altered in the early 1900s when it became a source of hydroelectric power for settler communities on the Olympic Peninsula. Students will take their guiding questions from this session into session 3 when they explore the largest dam deconstruction in U.S. history.

Session 3: Dams Down 40-60 minute live session 

After learning how river processes have been altered by the former dams and resulting reservoirs, students consider how the practices of science and engineering are used by scientists supporting the Elwha’s restoration.  Students will explore ideas on what would they consider when removing two large dams? Using past and current research students will see the positive and challenging impacts of the dam removal process. 

Session 4: Design an Investigation 40-60 minute live session

Students design an investigation based on their understanding of previous and current investigations related to the Elwha River restoration. Educators ask, if you were given all the resources and time to study one thing on the Elwha what would it be? Students are challenged to consider the impacts of humans on this watershed and to determine ways to use their voices to become stewards of their community.


Students will:

  • Understand the unique ecosystems, cultural features and natural history of Olympic National Park.
  • Learn about the history of the Elwha River and human interactions and impacts to its watershed.
  • Understand salmon ecology and historical use of the Elwha watershed including the Klallam perspectives.
  • Engage in the scientific processes of inquiry by developing testable questions.
  • Learn about simple field research equipment for data collection.

NGSS Standards

Disciplinary Core Ideas: LS2 Ecosystems;  ETS1, 2 and 3 Engineering Design

Practices: Developing and using models, planning and carrying out investigations, asking questions/ defining problems, constructing explanations, stability and change 

Crosscutting Concepts: Systems and System Models; Patterns; Cause and Effect 

Materials needed

Access to a computer, tablet or other online learning compatible device. Paper and drawing/coloring supplies.

Adult Expectations

At least one teacher will be present throughout each live online session. Other adults may attend by invitation from the teacher or group coordinator. All attending adults must complete NatureBridge’s Participant Registration Form in advance of the session. 

It is the responsibility of attending adults to support student learning and safety during large group instruction and small breakout sessions by following the expectations listed below. 

  • Support students in staying on task. 
  • Address discipline concerns, while allowing students to be engaged and answer questions on their own. 
  • Demonstrate a positive attitude and model inclusive behavior.
  • Communicate with the group’s NatureBridge educator about the educational plan and offer constructive feedback when appropriate.

Schedule this program

We successfully piloted our first season of Distance Learning programs this fall and will resume programming in February 2021. If you would like more information about a Distance Learning program for your class, please fill out the form below and our outreach team will be in touch with you in January to discuss your interest in more detail. 

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