Dyslexia: Negative exponents from the gr9 Math curriculum in Ontario

For Parent

Negative Exponents

Negative exponents are an important concept in grade 9 math. It is the inverse of an exponent or the same number raised to the power of -1. This is represented in math equations with a negative symbol in front of the exponent.

Example Equation

For example, let’s say you have the equation X-2 = 64. To solve this equation, you need to read it as “X to the power of -2 is equal to 64” and then use the inverse of raising X to the power of -2. This inverse is to take the root of the number two times, which in math is referred to as the square root. Therefore, in this equation, X would equal 8, because 82 = 64.


When a student with Dyslexia tries to understand negative exponents, they may run into the following issues:

Processing Complex Information

Negative exponents involve complex information, as the student needs to process the numbers both in the regular equation format of X-2 = 64 and also in its inverse form of 82 = 64. This can be difficult for someone with Dyslexia who may have issues understanding complex concepts and processing problems with multiple steps.

To help the student better understand negative exponents, the parent should explain the equation in simple terms and explain each step of the process in a very clear and organized way. The parent should focus on having the student learn and understand the equation, rather than quickly rushing to the answer.

Short-Term Memory Struggles

Those with Dyslexia often struggle with short-term memory, so when a student with Dyslexia learns negative exponents, they may find it difficult to remember the concept.

To help the student overcome this, the parent should help the student practice regularly by providing questions and equations to solve. The parent can create study flashcards with equations on them to help the student test their retention of the concept. The parent may also provide practice worksheets for the student to complete regularly.

Mental Blocking

It is not uncommon for students with Dyslexia to have mental blocks as they process complex information. With negative exponents, the student may become mentally blocked when trying to process the equation or when trying to solve the equation.

To help the student overcome this, the parent should remind the student to take a break and come back to the equation. This break can be used to refocus on the information, and could likely help the student break their mental block. The parent could also have the student practice the equations and gradually build up their ability to solve the equations autonomously.

Equation Reference

X-2 = 64; X = 8 (82 = 64)

Sample Question:

Q: What is X if X-2 = 49?

A: X = 7 (72 = 49)

For Youth

Hey there! Sometimes math can be hard, especially when things gets a bit more complicated. I’m sure you already understand some basics that involve exponents – such as when we raise a number to the power of 2 (we’d write this as 3^2), that means we’d be multiplying 3 by itself 2 times. For example, 3^2 would be 3*3, which is 9.

Negative exponents are a bit of a different concept, but it can be explained in a similar way. You see, when we have a expression like 4^-2, it’s the same as saying what number do we need to raise 4 to in order to get 1? In this case, we’d have to raise 4 to the power of -2, and that would be 1/(4*4) which is 1/16.

So a way to help explain this is to think of it as a fraction – if you’re raising 4 to the power of -2, it’s the same as 1 divided by 4 squared, or 4 multiplied by itself two times.

I know this can be hard to understand, so it might be helpful to start with some simple examples. Once you get the hang of these, the more complex concepts will become less intimidating. A good way to work through it is to start with positive exponents, and then move on to negative exponents. Make sure to take your time and take lots of breaks when you get overwhelmed – it’s far better to understand the concept than to just memorize it!