CHESHIRE - Most teenagers are characterized for scrutinizing over their mobile device screens, much more so than fawning over flowers and leaves. But at Hoosac Valley Middle and High School this fall, dozens of seventh-grade students had the opportunity to do just the latter through their English language arts classes. English language arts teacher Dawn Klein teamed up with Jennifer Lovett, a Williamstown-based conservation biologist, artist, author, and nature journalist, to show the students the value in being outdoors and taking in the details of the natural world through a process called nature journaling. Klein contacted Lovett after hearing about a workshop she did at the Clark Art Institute and Lovett, a former classroom teacher, agreed to volunteer to lead a day of outings. Instead of taking copious notes in words, a participant is asked to note what they observe about an outdoor object or animal and then draw it in as much detail as possible, in addition to jotting down some description, such at the temperature or sound. "It gave us a new thing to do and we could see things we were not used to seeing that often," said seventh-grader Mason Morin in reflecting on the activity. Lovett said that it's "not so much about the art but the kind of 19th-century pastime of documenting an item as much as you can so you can later refer to it, kind of like Audubon's drawings." The theory of nature journaling is that that more time you spend observing nature, the better you are able to focus on looking for the details of things. And, as Klein explains, detail-oriented people make for better writers and communicators. "One of the characteristics of good writing is using the power of observation. Having a close up view of something is how we are able to bring it closer to life," the teacher said. She noted that because of her students' schedules and lifestyles, they don't often get dedicated time to explore the outdoors, often neglecting the view of Mt. Greylock as they rush through the school doors, or never stepping down the tree-lined trails connected to their campus. "It makes you stop and think about what's around you," said seventh-grader Rosie Ziarnik. To get students started, Lovett asked them to find a place to sit on the ground, find an object to focus on, look at it for two minutes, then turn to their notebooks and draw what they remember. In her nature journaling workshops, she expands this practice, by changing up the lengths of observation and drawing time so that participants can see the difference in how the amount of detail correlates with the amount of time focused on the object they're drawing. To help students find a connection in writing, Klein, as a final assignment for the unit, asked students to write a sonnet about autumn and create a poster to express their feelings about the fall using their nature journal drawings. Despite hating the cold and having to go outside in crisp 40-degree weather, seventh-grader Emma Condron said she still enjoyed the activity. "During the fall, there's not much to draw aside from a lot of dead leaves on the ground. But I chose to focus on a leaf that looked like a fish and drew it. I really love my leaf-fish," she said. While outside, the class also talked about ecosystems and invasive species, color and light, conservation and finding confidence in drawing. Both the students and the teachers said the activity would complement other academic subjects, like history, geography, science and mathematics. "I think this would be good for other classes too, because it helps us have a better idea of what we're learning about," said seventh-grader Lilly Boudreau. "If teachers mixed it up more, we might be more excited or interested in what we're doing." Lovett agreed and is working with Klein to see if she might return to do a follow-up workshop with the students in the spring. "So many people are much more visual than verbal in the world, so this is a great motivator and morale booster in studying," Lovett said. "If you can connect curricula in this way, it makes a greater impact on kids and they can retain things more."