For many parents, this year’s Christmas list is coming with an educational twist.

At Hawk Ridge Elementary School in North Carolina, a teacher recently introduced a historical novel by asking students to research one-room schoolhouses on their digital devices. And for many parents, this year’s Christmas list is coming with an educational twist.

“I’m getting the eMails and the questions: ‘Christmas is coming up. What do you think and what would you suggest?'” says Hawk Ridge Principal Troy Moore. His response: A tablet is better than a phone or iPod, because the larger screen is more useful in class.

Hawk Ridge is among 21 schools piloting the “bring your own device” (BYOD) approach for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, with more expected to jump in after the first of the year. It’s a trend that is catching on in schools nationwide.

At a book fair at Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s Bailey Middle School last week, students and parents walked the halls brandishing tablets and smart phones, scanning Quick Response codes on the walls for a BYOD scavenger hunt.

The scavenger hunt required participants to log onto the district’s Wi-Fi network and scan QR codes, which took them to such sites as the district’s BYOD Q&A page and the Gaggle accounts students use for eMail, blogging, and document sharing. It wasn’t uncommon to see students zipping ahead while parents struggled to make the Wi-Fi connection.

For more information about BYOD in schools, see:

How to make BYOD work for your schools

Why a Scalable BYOD Access Strategy is Critical for K-12 Districts

BYOD and Beyond: How to Turn BYOD into Productivity

Using digital textbooks, making educational videos, creating blogs, and communicating online are fast becoming part of the school routine. BYOD steps up the pace of student access.

“It’s the future. It’s either be on board or be left behind,” said Melanie Manning, who did the scavenger hunt with her daughters.

Haves and have-nots

Stephanie Keel, a Bailey mom and a technology executive with Bank of America, says her initial reaction to BYOD was wariness.

“I was worried it would make a group of haves and have-nots,” she said.

That’s a common concern, according to parents and educators. The answer, they say, is that schools already have laptops, classroom desktops, and often iPads. When some students bring their own devices, the school technology is freed up for others.

“It kind of ends up with every kid having something, without you having to supply it all,” said Keel, who says she and 11-year-old daughter Emory are both fans now.

Leia Forgay, a biology teacher at West Mecklenburg High, says schools have always had to deal with the potential for clashes over symbols of affluence, whether that’s clothes and shoes or smart phones and tablets. It’s up to the adults to set a tone that diminishes such rivalry, she said.

And while West Meck is considered a high-poverty school, there aren’t many technology have-nots, she said. “These kids, they’ve got it all in their backpack.”

Students as leaders

Teachers are finding that BYOD allows them to implement more student-directed learning.